Hidden from view? Bringing refugees to the forefront of equity targets in Australian higher education

Ruth Sladek, Svetlana King

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    Students from refugee backgrounds are a legitimate equity target group in higher education. They bring personal assets such as resilience and educational aspiration developed through their life experience, but they also have complex backgrounds of educational, social and economic disadvantage that predispose them to under-representation in undergraduate and postgraduate education. It is difficult to evaluate Australian educational participation rates for these students given the lack of visibility in equity-related data collections. Arguably, this is due to their historic inclusion in the ‘Non English Speaking Background’ equity target group, which disappeared as a policy making focus in the late 1990s. Currently, and more broadly, students from refugee backgrounds fall within a larger collective target group of ‘low socio-economic status’ and, consequently, still lack visibility. Using the ‘Refugee-Humanitarian Birthplace Groups Approach’ and Australian Census data, a potential refugee equity target rate of 3.59% for Australian universities is proposed. We argue that it is timely to consider this student cohort independently of other existing equity targets. Universities should not only collect data relating to the participation of these students, but the Australian Government should require its universities to report these data to ensure transparency of participation at a national level.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)68-77
    Number of pages10
    JournalInternational Studies in Widening Participation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Australia
    • Equity
    • Higher education
    • Refugees
    • Socioeconomic status (SES)
    • Non-English speaking background


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