Fee-free childcare course a blessing for Emily Haralambou

Emily Haralambou faced an uncertain future after complications from epilepsy forced her out of school in Year 11.

“My family felt it wouldn’t be wise to do the Higher School Certificate while I was very ill. So I thought I’d find something I loved to do and study it,” she says.

On Monday, the 17-year-old started a childcare course with H&H College in western Sydney. “There’s lots of encouragement from everybody and different opinions, which is very good.”

A preschool where she volunteers has promised her a job when she qualifies in December. And her plans have been facilitated by a program covering her fees.

Emily is one of about 5000 people who so far have put up their hands for the NSW government’s Fee-Free Scholarships. The $48 million scheme is available to welfare recipients aged 15 to 30, with priority for social housing residents.

NSW Skills Minister John Bari­laro said the program, which started last month, would erase upfront payments for up to 200,000 students across the next four years. He said the initiative was part of the state’s “sharper focus on jobs”.

It emerges amid steep fee rises fuelled by open-market policies and a shift to “co-investment” by students. TAFE courses that were almost free for disadvantaged students can now cost thousands of dollars, and HECS-style loans are available only at diploma level. Mr Barilaro said co-investment helped support “a strong viable VET sector … But in some cases that’s become a problem, and we have to find a balance.”

Emily said without the scholarship, her certificate III course would have cost her about $1500. One course she considered had a price tag of $7500.

“It takes a lot of pressure off me and my parents,” she said.

Her mother, Jackie Haralambou, said she and her husband would have covered the fees if necessary, but they were trying to imbue their daughter with independence skills. “These types of opportunities are amazing. For families who support young people with some form of disability, it’s like a ray of sunshine.”

As Featured in The Australian