Reimagining support models for students from refugee backgrounds: Understandings, spaces and empowerment

You are here

Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

The role that education plays in the resettlement of students from refugee backgrounds is receiving increasing attention, yet understandings of how institutions respond to the identified needs of these students are less developed. A small body of empirical literature substantiates anecdotal evidence from practitioners about how the structures of higher education can hinder these students’ success in their studies through not recognising the complex suite of specific needs that students from refugee backgrounds have. This paper is based on research that explored, through a reciprocal research methodology, the experiences of students from refugee backgrounds enrolled in undergraduate degree programs at a regional university in Australia, where the student and staff population is predominantly from a monocultural Australian background. Working from the finding that the participants felt excluded within/from the forms of institutional support on offer, we seek to imagine how an institution could better engender a sense of belonging. We propose three approaches that could be implemented to better accommodate the support needs of students from refugee backgrounds, that transcend the limited horizon of ‘learning’ support: firstly, by developing face-to-face channels for information rather than relying on online systems of support; secondly, championing training for university staff; and thirdly, creating inclusive spaces through which to develop institution-wide cultures of belonging.

Keywords: Students from refugee backgrounds, support, belonging, reciprocal research.