Santa Ersta is the sort of student the federal government hopes to encourage with its Destination Australia tertiary scholarships announced last week in a pre-election population policy pitch: an international enrolment at a regional university campus.
Released in Planning for Australia’s Future Population, the program is light on detail but has been warmly welcomed.
International students as well as domestic ones will be eligible to apply for a total of up to 4720 scholarships over four years, for study at a regional campus of a university or vocational education and training provider. Up to 1000 students will be able to access up to $15,000 each a year.
Overseas students who choose to attend a regional university will also benefit from an extension of the temporary graduate visa, so they can live and work in regional Australia for an additional year.
Regional University Network chairwoman Helen Bartlett said: “International students will be attracted to study in regional Australia both by the scholarships and by the offer of an extra year of temporary residency in Australia.
“The students will be able to work unlimited hours if they have studied at a regional university campus and remain in a regional location.”
Southern Cross University vice-chancellor Adam Shoemaker was “thrilled” by the announcement.
“We are very aware of being a global university in a regional location,” he said.
It is all too late for Mrs Ersta, 36, in her final year of a master of forest science and management degree at SCU’s Lismore campus. She graduated in transport and logistics in her native Latvia, then lived and worked in England before coming to SCU on a student visa in 2017, with her husband and two young children.
“We wanted for our self-development to continue with study,” Mrs Ersta said. “Of course Australia was No 1 choice because the weather is so wonderful.”
When she spotted the forestry course “it sounded really interesting and I thought it would fit well with logistics — with timber import and export”.
SCU’s appeal was its “affordable price and the location was just great for forestry because the campus is surrounded by forest”.
After finishing this year, Mrs Ersta will head to HVP Plantations in Gippsland, where she has an 18-month contract as a trainee district forester, made possible under a temporary resident visa.
Regional universities are keen to boost overseas enrolments which at SCU account for about 20 per cent of the cohort. The latest arrivals at SCU Lismore are 20 Indian and Nepalese students enrolled in the forest science degree.
JILL ROWBOTHAM, HIGHER EDUCATION REPORTER, The Australian