Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Navigating uncertainty and complexity: Supporting refugee background students into higher education (#186)

Loshini Naidoo 1 , Jane Wilkinson 2 , Kip Langat 3 , Misty Adoniou 4 , Rachel Cunneen 4
  1. University of Western Sydney, Penrith, NSW, Australia
  2. Monash University, Melbourne
  3. Charles Sturt University, Albury
  4. University of Canberra, Canberra

Education in Australia has been characterized by unprecedented diversity, which is shaping policies and practices for the education and transition of language learners in general and refugee background students in particular. Matters of diversity have thus moved from marginal concerns into key issues for tertiary institutions (Deardorff et al., 2012). This diversity poses new challenges for the engagement of refugee background students who may find higher education as ‘culturally alienating’ (Krause, 2005, p. 3). In this space, refugee background students must navigate more complicated educational pathways such as adjusting to differences in the curriculum, norms around academic support, institutional culture and expectations.

Based on findings from a national cross-institutional Office of Learning and Teaching project (2012-2014) examining successful school to university pathways for students of refugee background, this workshop will provide participants with the opportunity to actively engage with data arising from the project and discuss the application of these findings to their institutional contexts. Using a number of activities developed from current university tasks; the workshop will show that staff at both university and secondary schools, should use the assets of refugee background students as possibilities for the academic and social cultures of universities rather than as problems to be solved.

As part of the workshop outcomes, it is intended that participants will develop: An understanding of the distinct teaching, learning and cultural needs of students of refugee background in tertiary education; An understanding of what supports effective School to University pathways for students’ access and participation in tertiary education; Practical advice regarding how university learning and teaching and support services can be enhanced to support and improve access to, and participation in tertiary education for students of refugee background; and Key implications for university policies, teaching and learning and student support services.

  ‘Navigating uncertainty and complexity’ 

 The workshop relates to the sub-theme of ‘Navigating uncertainty and complexity ’by examining the different cultural worlds and contexts that refugee background students must traverse and navigate in order to transition to university. They have to negotiate and master a new set of cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political condition (Kemmis & Wilkinson et al., 2014). They have to learn to ‘play’ (and master) the ‘game’ of power (Bourdieu, 1990) and this requires learning a new logic of practice. It is a practice that includes proficiency in the language registers required for academic success, that is, the distinct and specialised knowledge of a variety of academic subjects, as well as effective communication and participation within the university system. It requires recognising and negotiating the hidden curriculum of assessment and learning, and accessing and investing in the kinds of social capital that allows students to gain access to information, power and identity (Adler & Kwon, 2000). The ability to constantly navigate the complexity of the Australian higher education system, using different forms of social and aspirational capital to overcome educational barriers and a possessing a strong desire to succeed academically, is what enables refugee background students to successfully transition from school to university.

  1. Deardorff, D. K., de Wit, H., Heyl, J. D., & Adams, T. (Eds) (2012). The sage handbook of international higher education. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
  2. Krause, K. L., Hartley, R., James, R., & McInnis, C. (2005). The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from a decade of national studies. University of Melbourne: Centre for the Study of Higher Education.
  3. Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (2014). Changing practices, changing education. Singapore: Springer.
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  5. Adler, P. S. & Kwon, S. (2000). Social capital: The good, the bad and the ugly. In E. Lesser (Ed.), Knowledge and social capital: Foundations and applications (pp. 89-115). Boston: Butterworth-Heineman.