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NCSEHE research project update — People seeking asylum: Access and support in higher education

The NCSEHE conducts an annual Research Grants Program, building a solid evidence base to improve higher education access and outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

People seeking asylum: Access and support in higher education, led by Dr Lisa Hartley (Curtin University) is one of the 13 projects selected in the 2017 funding round.


This study explores the complex barriers to higher education facing people seeking asylum in Australia, and evaluates university and community-level support.

Analysing primary and secondary quantitative and qualitative sources, the study addresses a research gap by producing a national map of access barriers specific to people seeking asylum, and university and community efforts.

Through surveys and interviews with university and community sector stakeholders, and interviews with people seeking asylum, this study examines the impact of scholarships and other enabling initiatives; identifies best practice; and produces greater awareness of engagement and barriers to higher education for this group.

Pull quote Lisa Hartley

Project activities

Findings have been drawn from the National Symposium: People Seeking Asylum and Higher Education held in November 2017. This symposium brought together 25 people with lived experience of seeking asylum and 40 representatives from Australian universities and community organisations to share experiences, concerns, existing good practice and ideas and hopes for future advocacy and practice. A final report from this symposium can be accessed here.

A national survey with university and community organisations has also been conducted, as well as interviews with students with lived experience of seeking asylum, and people from university and community organisations working with people seeking asylum.

Preliminary findings

Challenges facing students:

Participants who have lived experience of seeking asylum have spoken of many challenges in trying to access higher education in Australia, including their treatment as international students due to their temporary visa status, and complicated application processes. They have also spoken about the inconsistency across institutions regarding application requirements; difficulty completing online applications; and a lack of “front-end knowledge” from student services. Further, they spoke of the limitations on government-funded English language courses and income supports, particularly since the Federal Government announcement that people seeking asylum on bridging visas will be taken of Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) income and casework support if they deem the person to be “job ready”. People who are studying are deemed “job ready” will be expected to support themselves putting students at even greater risk of destitution.

Pull quote Lisa Hartley

Enablers of accessing higher education:

Student participants have also spoken of the importance of key people, such as a trusted broker or friend, in enabling their participation. For example, one student spoke positively of the profound impact that key people within community and university sectors have had in enabling access to higher education. “I am an example of what the community can do … when the community takes responsibility for others.”

Good-practice examples enabling access to higher education:

Representatives from universities and community organisations have shared examples of good practice in enabling access to higher education, including providing full-fee waiver scholarships, providing a living allowance/stipend, employing a support/liason officer to support students through their studies, and offering subsidised accommodation options.

Pull quote Lisa Hartley

Common challenges and differences between universities:

There are some key similarities and differences in institutional responses with regards to issues such as how scholarships for people seeking asylum have been set up and the supports available. There has also been a common theme of the need for collaborative spaces on this topic.

National numbers of students with lived experience of seeking asylum studying in higher education:

The research team has initial numbers of students studying in higher education based on the national survey; however, these numbers will be cross-checked by contacting each university offering scholarships.

The final report, People seeking asylum: Access and support in higher education will be published on the NCSEHE website later in 2018.

More information about the projects funded under the 2017 Research Grants Program is available here.

Posted 18 July 2018 Posted in Culturally and linguistically diverse, Low SES, Migrants / refugees