Counselling and scholarships prioritised in bushfire response

Mental and financial survival are prioritised, as government and universities chart recovery efforts

January 17, 2020
bushfire forest fire
Source: iStock

Australia’s government has highlighted mental health as a focus of its efforts to aid the recovery of a fire-ravaged education sector.

Education minister Dan Tehan said that he had received a “loud and clear” message from a meeting in Canberra on 15 January. “We need to focus on our young people’s mental health because these bushfires will impact communities long after the flames are extinguished,” he said.

Mr Tehan said that, in line with the sector’s suggestions about how to improve bushfire management and recovery, the government would look at ways of using universities’ psychology and counselling resources to support existing mental health initiatives.

Mr Tehan said that students from bushfire-affected communities would also receive special consideration if they applied to the government’s A$58 million (£31 million) Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships programme.

The scholarships, designed to help overcome the impediments rural-based students face in accessing tertiary education, were introduced in 2018 and expanded under the government’s regional education package later that year. They are worth up to A$18,000 each with another A$500 available to support internships.

The scholarships are managed for the government by the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre. Mr Tehan said that the scheme had been fast-tracked this year “given the immediate needs of the situation”, with applications opening on 20 January.

Universities have launched their own scholarships in response to the fire crisis. Deakin University unveiled up to 25 “bushfire relief residential scholarships”, worth about A$12,000 each, to cover students’ yearly accommodation costs.

“As the bushfire crisis continues in many parts of Victoria and Australia, it is clear that the consequences of the terrible devastation will be with all of us for many years to come,” said vice-chancellor Iain Martin. “We are focused on supporting the educational aspirations of students whose studies might otherwise be interrupted.”

The Charles Sturt University Foundation offered A$5,000 scholarships to bushfire victims facing “unforeseen and life-altering hardship” that could prevent them from commencing or completing their studies. Many other institutions are offering financial assistance to fire-affected students and staff.

Meanwhile, Central Queensland University launched bursaries designed to help boost the ranks of disaster response professionals, offering A$5,000 scholarships to students of its bachelor’s of emergency service and graduate certificate in emergency and disaster management.

The University of Wollongong has set aside “hot desk” spaces in its North Wollongong business incubator for local operators displaced by the bushfires.

“We are offering the broadest range of support possible, from community refuges in our campuses through to medical and mental health care, bushfire and environmental expertise and economic development assistance,” said vice-chancellor Paul Wellings.

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