A new fund from a leading university has been launched to help aspiring teachers who need financial help complete their degree and enter the profession.
The Future Teachers Fund (FTF), announced by Edith Cowan University’s (ECU) on 28 April, provides a $5,000 scholarship to students most in need of financial help to get through their final year full-time professional experience placement.
The Fund was launched in response to Australia’s desperate call for more qualified teachers in classrooms.
The most recent review into teacher education, which was finalised in February 2022, found an “ambitious reform agenda” was needed to attract “high quality” students and make sure teacher education was “evidence-based and practical”.
The 2021 National Student Experience Survey revealed that out of 800 final year education students that graduate with ECU each year, more than 220 report being negatively impacted by their financial circumstances in their final year of study.
“We don’t want the cost of living to be a barrier to becoming a teacher,” ECU School of Education Executive Dean Professor Caroline Mansfield said.
‘Prac’ can be impractical
For many Australian university students in their final year of early childhood, primary and secondary teaching, it’s the weeks of prac that pushes them to their limits financially.
Maintaining casual or part-time employment while spending the entire school week working in the classroom can be an impossible juggling act, like it was for international student Phillippa Combrink, who resorted to taking out a personal loan to get by.
“The financial implications were huge, I remember driving from Tapping to Two Rocks Primary School for prac every day, and there was a time my petrol light came on and I had no money to put petrol in my car at that stage,” Combrink said.
Combrink came to Perth just prior to COVID lockdowns in 2020 to be nearer her sister, niece and nephew.
Under Australian law, like all international students, Combrink is required to pay her tuition fees up front.
“I had to take on quite a lot of different jobs because as a casual worker you generally just do shifts of two to five hours, there were some days I was working three different jobs just to get in enough hours to make enough money to cover my expenses,” she said.
“Having something like the Future Teachers Fund means for students we can take the focus off survival and actually engage with the experience.”
A small donation for a big sacrifice
After 16 years as a plumber and gas fitter, with a steady and secure income, it was a serious back injury that prompted mature-age student Jack Lee to chase his lifelong dream of becoming a school teacher.
It’s meant huge sacrifices, and for his supportive long-term partner too.
“To do this degree, the biggest sacrifice has been financial. My partner and I have downsized the house, cutdown our spending, got rid of the fancy four-wheel-drive and we now live in a duplex,” Lee said.
“At the moment I am taking jobs wherever I can, hoping nothing goes wrong – like the car breaks down, a pet gets sick or receiving surprise bills.”
Second-year teaching student Hannah Cullen said being awarded a Future Teachers Fund scholarship could be the difference between having to drop out or being able to graduate for so many struggling to juggle jobs and study.
“Having that financial assistance would be incredibly helpful, not having to spend so much time working,” Cullen said.
“At the moment to do this it’s about 40 hours of study a week, plus 20 hours of work, you can’t find the time to have a life.”
Professor Mansfield said it is not just the world-class education that puts ECU at the top of the list for aspiring teachers in Australia, it’s also the outstanding amount of academic, social and financial support that is on offer.
However, she said the University cannot do it alone.
“While ECU is in constant discussions with the State and Federal Governments, it is the donations from the public and WA business that could decide the future of many of tomorrow’s teachers,” Professor Mansfield said.
“Every donation will truly make a difference for our future teachers and will be a big step forward in answering the call for more qualified teachers needed in classrooms.”
The original version of this story appeared as a media release from Edith Cowan University.