School to University Transitions for Australian Children of Refugee Background: A Complex Journey

Loshini Naidoo, Jane Wilkinson, Misty Adoniou, Kip Langat

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Despite strong overall growth in Australian university participation, the representation of individuals from low-socio-economic status (SES) background, as a proportion of the total student population, remains below parity. Indeed, the proportion of domestic undergraduate students studying in Australia decreased between 2001 and 2008 (Universities Australia, A smarter Australia: an agenda for Australian higher education 2013–2016. Universities Australia, Canberra, 2013). As a result of this decline, the federal government adopted a target that by 2020, approximately 20% of all students would be of low-SES origin (Bradley D, Noonan P, Scales B. Review of Australian higher education: final report. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2009, recommendation 4). Many students in this low-SES category are of refugee backgrounds, and these numbers may accelerate in the future. For instance, in 2012–2013, 64% of applications for humanitarian status came from young people under the age of 30 (Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Australia’s offshore humanitarian program: 2012–13. Retrieved from, 2013a, 2012–2013: annual report. Retrieved from, 2013b, p. 1). Many refugee background students have high aspirations for educational attainment, a strong desire to succeed academically and demonstrate desirable attributes such as high levels of resilience and problem-solving capacities (Naidoo L, Wilkinson J, Langat K, Adoniou M, Cunneen R, Bolger D, Case study report: supporting school-university pathways for refugee students’ access and participation in tertiary education. University of Western Sydney Print Services, Kingswood, 2015). However, forced migration, interrupted schooling and significant differences in teaching pedagogy represent major barriers to mainstream pathways to higher education. The pedagogic experience is different for various refugee groups based on the complexity of their journey to Australia and their response to the changes in demography. Refugees are not homogenous, and their life histories therefore cannot be reduced to deficit thinking about their ability to transition. This chapter examines findings from a recent large study of school-to-university transition which examined the barriers and challenges faced by refugee background students transitioning from Australian secondary schools to university. In particular, it focuses on the kinds of enabling practices and structures at school level, which supported this transition, drawing on vignettes to illustrate these pathways. It concludes that although there are examples of exemplary school practices to support transition to university, these pathways are not systemic and are too often dependent on the knowledge, excellent practice and good will of individual schools and teachers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransitions to Post-School Life
Subtitle of host publicationResponsiveness to Individual, Social and Economic Needs
EditorsMargarita Pavlova, John Chi-Kin Lee, Rupert Maclean
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9789811064760
ISBN (Print)9789811064746
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameEducation in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues, Concerns and Prospects
ISSN (Print)1573-5397
ISSN (Electronic)2214-9791


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