A scholarships program worth nearly $200,000 a year will enable former North Korean students now living in South Korea to come to Australia to study English.
Education pathway UTS:INSEARCH, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australia-Korea Foundation, and the South Korean Ministry of Unification have come together to offer the scholarship program.
It is the first time that fully funded English-language scholarships in Australia have been made available to former North Korean students. It follows the success of a more limited, tuition-only pilot program over the past two years.
"These scholarships are unique as they offer the highest level of support and financial assistance available for former North Korean students to study English in Sydney," said Professor James Cotton, a member of the Australia-Korea Foundation (AKF) board.
The scholarships cover not only tuition but also international travel, accommodation and living expenses – a value of about $38,000 for each of the five students who will be selected in the next few months to take part in a 30-week program later this year.
Professor Cotton said the AKF was pleased to support the scholarships as part of its work to develop the relationship between Australia and Korea from a purely economic one – Korea is Australia's fourth-largest trading partner – to a deeper and broader one.
"The Free Trade Agreement with Korea is an important development," he told the launch of the scholarships at UTS Business School. "But [the relationship] also has to be about an exchange of ideas, an exchange of people, and an exchange of experiences."
The launch also heard about an Australia-Korea Innovation Symposium being organised by Dr Bronwen Dalton, of the Management Discipline Group at UTS Business School.
"These scholarships will really make a difference in the lives of people – not only the former North Korean students but the students they engage with," UTS:INSEARCH Managing Director Alex Murphy said.
"We believe this is an important opportunity to assist five young Koreans to build brighter futures and good careers by helping them to improve their English skills."
The Sydney-based Korean community and the University of Technology Sydney had been extremely supportive, he said.
Two students from the pilot program spoke, in English, at the launch.
Using pseudonyms to protect their identities, and therefore the security of family still in North Korea, the students said they needed English to open up greater academic and job opportunities.
"Gloria" has lived in South Korea for six years and was excited that, there, she could "study what I want to learn". However, "the more I advanced … the more I felt that learning English is a crucial thing in order to live the life I want, to get a job and to study extensively."
"Jenny", who left North Korea only three years ago to live in South Korea, told the launch that learning English at UTS:INSEARCH had boosted her self-confidence. "I can now much more specifically plan for my future," she said.
Dr Dalton said the program would be significant for Australian-Korean relations.
"This is the type of initiative that UTS and both governments can justifiably be proud of, as it touches on values Koreans and Australians share: a genuine commitment to helping each country to find innovative solutions to social disadvantage and ensuring that young people of all backgrounds are given the chance to realise their potential."
She noted that the AKF and the Australian Government were not only supporting the scholarships but were also providing funding for the symposium "Australia and Korea: Innovation and collaboration in the FTA era", to be held in Seoul on May 25.
The symposium, in partnership with the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the Australia Chamber of Commerce in Korea, will bring together leading Australian and Korean businesses, policy makers and researchers to discuss national innovation policies and systems and to build a network fostering collaboration between industries.
It will focus on the creative industries, agribusiness, tourism and education.
More information about the symposium can be found here.
Further information about the scholarships can be found in Korean here, with an application form to be available soon.