Successful school to university pathways for young people of refugee background

Year: 2015

Author: Eilkinson, Jane, Naidoo, Loshini, Lanat, Kiprono, Andoniou, Misty, Cuneen, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Recent figures show that half the world’s refugees are children, with young people now representing more than fifty per cent of victims of global armed conflict and those displaced. Although Australia resettles extremely small numbers of refugees compared to other nations, as the numbers of refugees and displaced persons worldwide continues to rise, the number of refugee background students in Australian classrooms has increased. This is a trend that is beginning to shift the profile of students in Australian universities, with major equity implications for educators and educational systems. However, despite the reality that matters of equity have moved from marginal concerns into key issues for Australian universities, Australia’s educational systems remain characterised as high in quality but low in equity. Indeed it would appear that ‘doing equity’ may be more honoured in the breach than in the reality.
In 2008, the Australian Government set a target stipulating that by 2020, 20 percent of higher education enrolments at the undergraduate level would be made up of students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds (Bradley Report, Recommendation 4). Students of refugee background are a specific group within this low SES targeted cohort. Few universities, however, appear to be considering the distinct academic and social support needs that differentiate refugee background students from other low SES groups. In response to this lacuna in the research, this paper reports on findings and recommendations from a recent Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) case study, which examined school to university pathways for young people of refugee origin in Australia. It draws on focus groups and interviews conducted in regional and urban New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory with school support staff, teachers, school executive and students; as well as university support staff, academics, administrators and students. In so doing, it raises some ‘thorny questions’ in regard to the roles and responsibilities of universities and staff catering for the highly complex needs of this recent demographic of students.
With the number of refugee background students entering universities increasing steadily nationally and internationally – there is a strong imperative for universities to reflect on these findings in order to improve support and transition pathways for this particular group. This is not solely a matter of economic productivity but a central commitment for those who ascribe to education as a form of socially just practice.