Re(claiming) social capital for Students from Refugee Backgrounds: Reflecting on challenges encountered by Students from Refugee Backgrounds in Higher Education

Year: 2017

Author: Taiwo, Mary, Sing, Sonal, Tregale, Ruth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Making sure that refugees have access to education is at the heart of UNHCR's mandate to protect the world's rapidly increasing refugee population, and central to its mission of finding a long-term solutions to refugee crises (UNHCR' 2017). Research within the Australian system of education has revealed that quality education is pivotal in the resettlement process of young adults from refugee backgrounds (WPU, 2016). It is in this context that this study focuses on exploring whether/how language and culture impact upon students from refugee backgrounds transitions into higher education. In this paper, we explore how students from refugee backgrounds experience their transitions into and through their undergraduate studies here in Australia.
Using semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions, qualitative data was generated and thematically analysed. Codes were inductively generated based on the issues raised by the research participants who are students from refugee backgrounds. Participants included in this research are students in year 12 and undergraduate students currently enrolled in university. The findings reported here focus on the experiences of six undergraduate students. They are a subset from the entire research participants.
Some emerging findings include: Firstly, inadequate support for students from refugee backgrounds especially within the first few weeks and months of being a university student. Secondly, there is a significant level of lack of awareness within the university support services of the peculiar learning needs of students from refugee backgrounds. Lastly, students from refugee backgrounds are often surprised and sometimes shocked by the standards and quantity of work required at a university level. This often leads to unprecedented pressure on the individual student.
The issues raised have implications for social justice and equity in higher education. Equity demands that students' needs are effectively addressed to enable them to be at parity with their peers. This research outcome indicates a need for higher education institutions to take on more responsibility in providing students from refugee backgrounds with adequate guidance, sufficient preparatory information and support especially in the first few months of being a student. Doing the above, we argue is a reflection of the Australian education system's commitment to ensuring that they play a role both in the provision of equal opportunities and in supporting students from refugee background with the educational foundation that enhances their ability to rebuild their life's, effectively resettle and contribute to the Australian economy in the long run.