04/09/2007 - 22:00

Not for profit: ICT grants to boost study

04/09/2007 - 22:00


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For Curtin University student Ian Blackburn, information computer technology access for the blind is an issue that resonates strongly.

For Curtin University student Ian Blackburn, information computer technology access for the blind is an issue that resonates strongly.


Mr Blackburn, who was born blind, is currently working on a project to create a multi-modal device to interpret ICT and electronic devices, which relies on senses other than sight for its operation.


He was awarded $5,000 under this year’s Australian Computer Society Foundation scholarship program, which was presented last week.


Mr Blackburn, who is undertaking a Master of Commerce (information sytems), is part of a team of eight researchers building a theoretical model for a personal digital assistant for the blind.


The group’s model will be used to build software products tailored to blind users under the broader Curtin University Brailler Project.


“The aim is to produce a set of guidelines that engineers can use,” Mr Blackburn said.


“They will take our model and our guidelines and make innovative devices for the blind.”


Mr Blackburn is one of 20 scholarship winners who shared a prize pool of $106,000 in this year’s awards, sponsored by industry and government.


Since 2003, 96 scholarships have been awarded to WA students, worth a total of $596,000.


The ACS scholarships range in value from $5,000 to $30,000, with the latter amount typically covering a three-year undergraduate degree.


ACS Foundation WA chapter chair Jim Ellis said the scholarships were helping to address an industry shortage of ICT professionals.


“We started off with a lot of PhD students, but now the focus has turned to undergraduates, because there is such a shortage of students going into the ICT area,” Mr Ellis told WA Business News.


“Students are getting snapped up before they’ve even finished their degrees, which is even worse for the universities.”


Established in 2002, the WA chapter of the ACS Foundation has the dual aim of helping physically or financially disadvantaged potential students to undertake ICT study at Tafe or university, as well as raising the ICT industry’s profile.


The Western Australian Internet Association also recently awarded its inaugural grants under the Internet Community Development Scholarship Grant Program, established in June this year.


The three-year scholarship program, which is being funded from WAIA membership fees, is targeted at community internet projects that promote growth in the local internet community.


The program gives preference to community-focused not-for-profit projects, undertaken by organisations or individuals.


Grants range in value between $2,000 and $5,000, with a total of about $20,000 in grant funds available each year.


This year’s total grant pool was just more than $20,000.


WAIA president Richard Keeves said the awards program was intended to develop the internet community in WA and promote growth of the internet. 


“The ability to fulfill the aims and objectives of WAIA is what we were looking for in the applications,” he said.


The five inaugural recipients of the award were: the Swan View and Districts Agricultural and Arts Society; Extra Edge Community Services; Internet Governance Forum; Film and Television Institute; and the Epilepsy Action, Australia and Epilepsy Association of Western Australia.


Mr Keeves said the program was motivated by a need to develop a more structured sponsorship program.


“We have provided funding to a lot of organisations over the last 10 years, but in a relatively reactive manner,” he said.


“This program came about after a review of our strategic objectives last year, to assess how we were fulfilling the interests of internet users in WA.”


Mr Keeves said the program had initially been open to both community and commercial projects.


“However, because of the fantastic response to this year’s grants, it will in future years be only available to not-for-profits,” he said.


The WAIA received 45 applications for this year’s program.



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