But a growing number of rural and regional students are being thrown a vital lifeline, thanks to a burgeoning partnership between the University of New England (UNE) Foundation and the Country Education Foundation of Australia (CEF).
CEF is this year supporting a record number of UNE students in financial need through generous scholarships. And the beauty is that the money has been raised in the students' own backyards, through a network of regional committees.
CEF has locally based foundations in communities across Australia, except for Western Australia and Tasmania. Foundation committees conduct a variety of fundraising activities -like art shows, morning teas and formal dinners -to help support 16-25-year-olds follow their education, training and career aspirations.
Although CEF partners with many Australian tertiary institutions, a large proportion of the students the charity supports are enrolled at UNE. In partnership with the UNE Foundation, some 39 UNE students will get a funding boost this year, to the tune of $75,000 with half provided by UNE Foundation donors.
For Walgett UNE Agriculture student Lizzy Weber the scholarship not only met an immediate financial need; it has also helped to further her longer-term career ambitions.
"I spent 2019 working in Kununurra doing crop monitoring for an agronomy firm and studying at UNE part-time online," Lizzy said. "Returning to Armidale for my intensive schools - flying from Kununurra to Sydney, then to Dubbo and on to Armidale - was extremely expensive, even when I booked weeks in advance. I put my scholarship towards the cost of those flights. This relieved me of a great deal of financial stress.
"Working in Kununurra provided me with valuable work experience, and it was a major selling point to my new employer in Dalby, WA, where I will start work as a crop inspector next cotton season. It enabled me to go into the job interview with a degree of confidence and practical knowledge. Working in Kununurra while I completed my studies would not have been possible without CEF Walgett’s help."
Fellow Walgett student Maggie Yeomans, a second year Nursing student at UNE, will put her scholarship to a different but similarly practical use.
"Funding myself at uni can be tricky, but I will put my funds this year towards buying a laptop and textbooks, which can be ridiculously expensive," she said.
"Last year, CEF funds helped me to travel to hospital pracs on the south and north coasts of NSW, covering my accommodation and living expenses. It takes so much pressure off me and my family, and allows me to focus on my studies."
CEF CEO Juliet Petersen said furthering the educational and personal development ambitions of rural youth goes beyond financial relief.
"Our local committees may provide $500 to $1000, but the scholarships remind students that their community is behind them, that they believe in them," Mrs Petersen said.
CEF Walgett secretary Prue Sinclair said Lizzy and Maggie are two of nine Walgett Shire residents currently benefitting from the CEF-UNE Foundation relationship.
"UNE is always a popular choice for the students we support locally, both to study on campus and online," Prue said. "This partnership sees our lucky students receive additional support from the UNE Foundation to their local CEF grants, which is especially important as many districts recover from crippling drought.”
Robert Heather, Director of Advancement, Communications and Events at UNE, said CEF is an incredibly significant grassroots organisation. "It works across the country to support the dreams of regionally-based young people and enable them to access better educational opportunities,” he said. “The partnership between CEF and the UNE Foundation provides an opportunity for us to channel some of our Country Scholarship funds where they are most needed, helping our students in a practical way.”
For further information about getting involved with Country Education Foundation in your local community visit https://cef.org.au/