Refugee Background students in tertiary education: An insider’s view

Year: 2016

Author: Mupenzi, Alfred

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Many of the school age humanitarian refugee arrivals to Australia over the past decade most especially those from Africa, have had no formal education, or severely interrupted education backgrounds (Olloff & Couch, 2005) and this is due to the extended time periods spent in settlement camps and the transient nature of their existence. This study reports on findings and recommendations from my PhD thesis which focused on, “narratives of displacement, resilience and education: A case of African students with a refugee background in tertiary education in Australia”. Drawing from my own story and ten narratives of my research participants i was able to understand how students with a refugee background navigate a life of adversity. I used lived experiences to explore resilience and education among refugee background students. A framework of Post-Colonial Theory (PCT), Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Event Theory (CET), revealed the root-causes of why there are unprecedented people’s movement across nation states in the great lakes region of Africa and Sierra Leone. Life history narrative methodology was used to bring the transitional educational experiences of refugee background students right from their home country, through transit countries to their settlement in Australia. Findings reveal that, because refugees cannot take anything for granted, they tend to be highly resourceful and adaptive. some refugee background students have succeeded by seizing every opportunity that comes their way. “I attended every free course that was offered at university and went to every workshop that was open whether it was relevant to my areas of study or not, “ said Eneza. The fact that many refugees have been given a second chance in life, this makes them determined to convert their visions into realities and tend to be resilient despite the adversity in their lives.However, the very fact that research participants have a life that they have been denied in the past and in their respective countries, when they are resettled in a third country like Australia, they settle with an assumption that they are going to be restored to their original life style, i.e.,go back to school, have a home to belong to, enjoy community belonging or even regain a sense of belonging to a family. When all this doesn't turn out to be as expected, they start finding reasons for not pursuing educational life goals. Findings reveal that these students need mentors to orient them into their new experiences.