A new report released today by Curtin University has found improved access to higher education for asylum seekers is important for their individual wellbeing and their ability to contribute to society.
The report, funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), examined some of the first Australia-wide data produced on the number of people seeking asylum who are currently participating in, or considering, higher education and how universities are supporting this.
Lead report author Dr Lisa Hartley, from the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University, said while some universities were responding to the complex barriers faced by asylum seekers by introducing fee-offset scholarships and income supports, federal government policy required change to alleviate key barriers.
“More than 30,000 asylum seekers have temporarily resided in Australian communities over the past six years and many of the specific challenges they face stem from the temporary nature of their visas, which include limited pathways available for higher education. These students are ineligible for Federal Government programs designed to assist with financing tertiary study, and for most, this entry-point is financially prohibitive,” Dr Hartley said.
“In order to conduct our research, we engaged with people seeking asylum and other representatives from universities and community groups through a national symposium, online survey, and individual interviews. We also conducted a review of Australian Government and institutional policies.
“We propose the introduction of permanent protection visas to those deemed eligible, and the expedited processing of refugee claims still outstanding, so these individuals can benefit from income and other supports on par with Australian students.”
The report also found that participants indicated other barriers to higher education including difficulties in accessing alternative pathways, a lack of affordable English language courses, and a changeable policy landscape causing stress and confusion.
Dr Hartley said the research showed more than 200 people seeking asylum across Australia had benefitted from fee-offset university scholarships, coupled with living allowances and other supports.
“Universities could now consider extending these scholarships and adopting additional measures including alternative entry pathways, transition supports, simplified application processes, academic and English language courses, targeted support for asylum seekers with additional disadvantages, and the provision of one staff member as a central point of contact,” Dr Hartley said.
“Other recommendations include collaboration among institutions and community organisations to advocate for policy changes, and the engagement of people with lived experience of seeking asylum in the development of policy and practice.”
NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad commended institutional and community responses to the complex issues affecting people seeking asylum.
“This research highlighted the positive outcomes that can be achieved through targeted support for people seeking asylum in Australia, as exemplified by the programs already in place across a number of universities,” Professor Trinidad said.
The research was co-authored by Dr Lisa Hartley, Associate Professor Caroline Fleay, and Rebecca Field from Curtin University, as well as Dr Sally Baker from the University of New South Wales and Dr Rachel Burke from the University of Newcastle.
The full report, ‘People seeking asylum in Australia: Access and support in higher education,’ can be found online here.