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Distance and finances, big barriers for study

Friday 21 May 2021 9:30am

Tane Schol image
Tane says distance is a big obstacle for students like himself when choosing where to study.

A scholarship can help a person discover their potential – a gift which one student plans to give for years to come.

In 2019 Tane Whitehead a then Year 13 student at a Taranaki High School was thinking about university but had not yet decided where to pursue his studies. Like many students from small North Island towns, a trip to Dunedin was an unlikely event.

Tane was a recipient of the Poutama Scholarship which helps North Island students make the trip to Hands-On at Otago, an annual event for high school students looking at tertiary study. Now the second-year student wants to help others have the same opportunity through a new, Taranaki-specific version of the scholarship he received.

Tane and Prajesh image
Prajesh Chhanabhai helped Tane make the decision to study at Otago.

“I had heard about Hands-on at Otago through my high school physics teacher who studied at Otago. She told me about the scholarship which made the trip possible.”

The trip for many students outside of the Otago region can be costly especially without friends or family in Dunedin to stay with.

“My flight here for the week was the first time I had been on a plane and the longest time I had been away from home. I didn’t know anyone here either.”

“I did Physiology for the week and it helped me to realise this was what I wanted for my future. In high school it can be hard to know what your options are for study and if university is for you. Hands on at Otago cleared so much of that up for me.”

The Exercise and Sports Science student says he knows distance and finances are often the two biggest barriers for students when it comes to choosing where to study or if to study at all.

“I thought there must be many students in the same situation who overlook Otago. Coming from a town a long way from Dunedin you think it’s less likely you’d be chosen for a scholarship too. I wondered if I could find a way to help students get to Otago because it’s a lot of money to spend when you don’t know for certain it’s where you want to study.”

Once Tane had settled into his new life in Dunedin he spoke with Schools’ Liaison Officer Prajesh Chhanabhai who had been an important influence in Tane’s own decision to apply to Otago.

“Tane came to me in first-year and said he wanted to start a scholarship. He wants young people who struggle to travel. I thought it was a good initiative so we contacted businesses in Taranaki and over the summer gained some interest. We set up a trust and the plan is to have it ticking over to help more students in the future too.”

"Young people sometimes miss out because they think university is just for the academic kids but I’d like them to see that’s not the case and give it a chance.”

So far three businesses have come on board for Tane’s scholarship which will aim to get students from the region to Hands-on at Otago each year.

“The criteria is students who are heading into year 13 in the Taranaki region and come from a low-decile school,” Tane says.

“We plan to get the first student down for the next event in January and the long-term goal is to expand this to include other regions too.”

Hands-on at Otago sees several hundred high school students visit Otago experience tasters of subjects offered.

“I was fortunate to be one of the 400 people to go in 2019. I asked a lot of questions but also spent time talking to other students. It’s an encouraging chance to see you’re not the only person working it all out.”

“My hope with this new scholarship is it will help students to see what University life looks like and think about the kind of career they might want when they leave school. Young people sometimes miss out because they think university is just for the academic kids but I’d like them to see that’s not the case and give it a chance.”

Tane looks forward to seeing the first recipient of the scholarship make the trip in early 2022 and already has plans to get more businesses on board for the future. When he graduates he plans to start his own physio business which not only assists rehabilitation but also strengthens for life.