Macquarie University

Macquarie University’s project involves generating qualitative data through interviews and focus group discussions with high school and Macquarie University students from refugee backgrounds. We are exploring the experiences of three groups of students. Firstly, we are exploring the current learning experiences and support that students from refugee backgrounds in high school are receiving through their mentors (i.e., for students who are part of the LEAP Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring) Program). Secondly, we are exploring the experiences of students who are currently at Macquarie University but did not participate in the mentoring program. Lastly, we are also exploring the experiences of students from refugee backgrounds currently studying for an undergraduate degree and have previously been part of the LEAP Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring) Program. All the above aims to develop an in-depth understanding of how students from refugee backgrounds are engaging with the university teaching and learning culture.

Methodology summary

Phase 2 (July 2015–May 2016): high school students on the LEAP—Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring) Program were interviewed—focus groups or one-on-one interviews.

Phase 3 and Phase 4 (September 2016–May 2017): interviews with undergraduate university students from refugee backgrounds some of whom had previously participated in the LEAP—Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring) Program.

Member checking process (August 2017): (1) focus group: 4 participants; (2) one-on-one interviews with students and 1 key informant interview.

All data generated was thematically analysed.

Students’ perspectives on what is required for an effective transition process

1. Students from refugee backgrounds suggested that higher education institutions can provide a system where there is a face-to-face contact for support provided. This can be a transition support officer (some institutions already have one) or that if students request for face-to-face contact and they are from a refugee background, they are provided with that option as part of the broader support services available.

2. Students suggest that they will require more targeted activities that focus on core academic skills such as:

  • Referencing;
  • Academic writing;
  • Plagiarism—how it looks like or how it might happen; and
  • Planning and time management especially because most of them need to work following other demands in life of students from refugee background

3. Students suggested that they require a more detailed, tailored support towards orientation very early on arrival in the university

4. Students from refugee backgrounds suggested that they need to be given the opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of their rights as students and the structures that they could use. These include systems such as excuse slips for extending requests on assignments and how or when to complete an extension request.

5. Students from refugee backgrounds expressed a desire to have programs and support services that enable them to develop more confidence and self-efficacy. This they add can also be developed through a process of providing specific ongoing support such as feedback as they develop written assignments and essays.

6. Students from refugee backgrounds expressed the need for academic staff to create avenues that will provide opportunities for them to interact with locals. Some of the avenues mentioned include having group work or discussions and group projects. These teaching strategies, students from refugee backgrounds believe will place them in a context within which they are compelled to interact with other students. This in their opinion will facilitate their interaction with immediate their university peers.

7. Students expressed the need for support from the broader academic community in ways that the support services address the peculiar needs/ challenges that a student from a refugee background will most likely have to deal with.

Some of the support systems identified by students from refugee backgrounds as the most effective for their needs include:

  • Peer-to-peer support
  • Proofreading or ongoing feedback that gives students confidence on their work
  • Relaxed policy on assessment
  • Program that allows time for students to improve
  • Support that provides an understanding of priorities and time use at the time of enrolment and commencement of higher education

Challenges of Transition into higher education for Students from Refugee Backgrounds

Factors that Hinder successful transition

  1. Fragmented nature of information as it is provided or the lack of clarity in the communication provided especially on arrival on campus.
  2. Family provides limited support
  3. Attitude and response from academics—mostly holding a single perspective to all students from language backgrounds other than Englis and distrusting them.
  4. Lack of broader support services for students from refugee backgrounds
  5. Strict policy on assessment that does not consider the peculiar needs of students from refugee backgrounds
  6. Nature and structure of tutorials which is generalised support and not specific
  7. Lack of avenues to develop communication and connect with the wider university community—students usually blame themselves but this is not the case
  8. Students from refugee background assuming that the problem is up to them to fix or that all students are having the same experience.