News & Events

Macquarie University – Learning, Education, Aspiration and Participation (LEAP)

Young people from refugee backgrounds face a raft of complex challenges when entering the Australian education system, stemming from common experiences of disrupted prior education and trauma. These students in most cases need additional guidance and encouragement to attend university, as the social and cultural capital needed to navigate education and career pathways is often lacking. Education is key to effective resettlement, leading to better employment and health outcomes, yet schools often struggle to provide resources to fully support this very academically able cohort.

The Learning, Education, Aspiration and Participation (LEAP)–Macquarie Mentoring (Refugee Mentoring) Program at Macquarie University connects students from refugee backgrounds with university student mentors to help them navigate these challenges.

The LEAP program has partnered with 10 schools across the Greater Western Sydney area since its inception in 2011. The program was set up in consultation with the NSW Department of Education, partner schools and with input from students from refugee backgrounds.


There is very limited support for students from refugee backgrounds in their transition to higher education. Macquarie University is developing specific strategies and programs to engage students from refugee backgrounds with the aim of increasing student motivation and self-confidence, and to increase their awareness of higher education possibilities.

Activities and Progress

The LEAP program engages university student mentors, some of whom are from migrant or refugee backgrounds themselves, to mentor students from refugee backgrounds who are between Years 9 and 12 in high school.

The program comprises a flexible three-part structure that allows mentors to tailor the program to the individual needs of their mentees.

The program is guided by the structure below:

  • Weeks 1–3 — Developing Rapport:

> establishing ground rules
> mentor/mentee stories
> goal setting.

  • Weeks 4–6 — Skill Building:

> study skills
> time management
> research skills.

  • Weeks 7–11 — Informed Decision Making:

> career research strategies
> explore pathways to university
> university experience day
> review goals and reflection
> wrap up and evaluation.

The program:

  • develops confidence, resilience and agency
  • raises aspirations towards further study
  • develops social and cultural capital to navigate the tertiary education system
  • develops study and research skills, including Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills
  • develops an awareness of school and university cultures and expectations in the Australian context
  • develops an understanding of available educational pathways and making decisions regarding appropriate pathways
  • increases refugee parents’ and communities’ understanding of tertiary education pathways.


To date, 1,203 secondary school refugee students have benefited from participation in the program, with 86 students now in universities across Australia. From 2013–16 a mixed method approach was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the LEAP program, encompassing three focus groups with 12 mentees in each and paper-based surveys.

Evaluation of Macquarie LEAP 2013-16

Of the students participating in the evaluation, 84 per cent reported that their awareness of what university has to offer had increased, and 60 per cent also reported an increased awareness of potential pathways into higher education and university. Additionally, 92 per cent of students reported that the program motivated them to study at a university/higher education level. This increased motivation is apparent in the students’ reflections on the impact of the LEAP program.

Sustainable Impact

The HEPPP funded LEAP program helps develop sustained
and meaningful interactions between university students and high school students from refugee backgrounds during the course of the program. The evidence indicates the LEAP program provides mechanisms to provide sustained, goal-directed support to students for higher education. More importantly, the program contributes to the development of educational and social capital for students to develop their confidence, awareness, motivation and perception towards university to widen the participation in higher education of students from refugee backgrounds.

This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.

Posted 27 April 2018 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, General, Low SES, Migrants / refugees