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Research update — COVID-19 online learning landscapes and CALDMR students: Opportunities and challenges

During 2020/21, Dr Sally Baker from the University of New South Wales has been leading one of 17 projects funded under the sixth round of the NCSEHE Research Grants Program.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the research is progressing well. Dr Baker and her team share an update this month, including preliminary findings from surveys, interviews and policy review. The team are still welcoming participation in the project from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrant and/or Refugee (CALDMR) students, university educators, equity practitioners and educational developers. See here for details of how to participate.

Project summary

This study explores the effects of remote learning induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the capacity of universities to offer equitable teaching and learning services to CALDMR populations. Building on existing research undertaken by team members and working as an interdisciplinary collective of educators and equity practitioners under the Refugee Education Special Interest Group (RESIG), we propose a critical/strengths-based mixed-methods approach to develop a holistic picture of the challenges and opportunities for CALDMR students and universities within a changing teaching and learning landscape.

Research activities and preliminary findings


Surveys are currently underway with students, educators, equity practitioners and educational designers. Student participants to date represent a range of cultural backgrounds (Singapore, Fuliiru, Vietnamese, Indian, African, Afghani, Myanmar/Rohinga, Ahwazi, Nepalese) and have resided in Australia from six months to six years.

University educators: interviews

Preliminary findings from interviews with three educators identified some key issues around teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Educators were able to transfer swiftly to a remote learning environment as most had been doing some form of blended learning in their subject areas anyway.
  • Most of the interviewees were casual/contract/early career educators and felt they were not sufficiently supported by the institution and their particular departments in making the changeover. This was most noticeable in terms of working with particular student groups and being informed of equity/diversity policies for CALDMR students in particular.
  • Educators noted disparities in students’ access to supports for learning, for example, IT, safe working spaces, access to support, isolation, financial difficulties, and access to resources.
  • Educators trialled different pedagogical approaches to motivate and engage students in the absence of face-to-face learning opportunities.
  • Most educators felt that their main focus during this pandemic became less on content (even though content was well prepared and accessible) and more on support for students’ social and emotional wellbeing.
  • During COVID-19, these educators voiced concerns over the accumulation of unpaid labour with little guidance on how to support students in class. They reported providing extra ‘online’ time to answer individual students’ questions during the transition from face-to-face to remote learning environments.

Policy review

Preliminary findings:

  • The Federal Government, state and territory governments, and higher education institutions have put in place a range of COVID-19-related emergency student support packages. The support includes direct financial assistance, scholarship, rent relief, and food aid.
  • In most cases, COVID-19-related student support initiatives do not specifically target CALDMR students. The shared consensus appears to be that domestic students most disadvantaged by COVID-19 (including CALDMR students) benefit from existing government assistance (including Youth Allowance, AUSTUDY and ABSTUDY) and other Commonwealth income support programs such as JobKeeper, Job Seeker or Status Resolution Support Services payment for those on bridging visa.
  • Even so, in some cases, state government initiatives and university-based emergency support packages benefit specific CALDM/R student groups such as Protection Visa holders and Asylum Seekers. For example, through Extreme Hardship Support Program, the Victorian Government provides financial support to undocumented migrants who (a) are experiencing significant hardship as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and (b) are unable to access Commonwealth income support. Likewise, the COVID-19 Support Package for Students at UTS, the Financial Hardship Assistance at RMIT, and the COVID-19 Financial Hardship Grant at UWA provide general support to disadvantaged domestic students regardless of access to other government assistance. CALDMR students can benefit from such opportunities.
  • The response to the COVID-19 disruption focuses mainly on financial assistance — the academic challenges of disadvantaged student gains little attention.

The final report will be published on the NCSEHE website later in 2021.

Posted 9 February 2021 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, Migrants / refugees