Country students given boost for big start | The Canberra Times

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Canberra feels like a big city for university student Elsie Ford. The 18 year old grew up in the NSW town of Narrabri, a tight-knit community of just 8000 people, where she knows just about everyone she meets on the main street. “Moving to the city has been very different, difficult but also exciting … I’m getting used to it but it’s not home, I’ll tell you that,” she said. Ms Ford made the seven and a half hour drive to Canberra so she could start a bachelor of exercise physiology and rehabilitation with the goal of becoming a sports physiotherapist one day. “My ideal goal is to be the physiotherapist for the Australian women’s cricket team because I love cricket,” she told AAP. The cost of petrol for the long drive was just the start of Ms Ford’s expenses, with rent for her room at the University of Canberra at $246 a week and even the novel experience of paying for parking. Although she saved up her money from a part time job at Coles, a bigger help has been the $22,000 McIlrath scholarship she won through the Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF). The foundation last year helped 648 students with scholarships and other financial support, and since it began in 1993 it’s raised $14.7 million to help 6780 country students. Most of that money has been raised by community volunteers, philanthropic donations and corporate partnerships. Nicole Wright from the foundation says it also offers social support for students, noting many regional areas were coping with drought, floods and bushfires even before the pandemic hit. “We’ve all been so isolated and kept away from communities that for students to take that leap to larger centers and make new friends, that transition can be really hard,” she told AAP. According to CEF figures, about a quarter of regional students consider quitting their post-school education because of financial pressures, while country students are 40 per cent less likely to gain a higher level tertiary qualification. The CEF runs 44 local foundations across Australia and any student from an area with a local group is eligible for support. Elsie Ford admits she’s already looking forward to heading back to Narrabri for the semester break to see her mum, who stayed in Canberra for three days to help her settle in to her new life. “I’m always very excited to experience new things but as soon as my mum left, Canberra felt much bigger than it did when I first got here,” she said. Australian Associated Press

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