Authors: Shelley Gower, Curtin University and Mary Taiwo, Macquarie University
The 2016 Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) conference was intellectually engaging and emotionally intriguing with the choice of MCG as the conference venue. More importantly, the conference provided an opportunity for us to learn and become aware of other research projects that are closely related to our current OLT project.
Our presentation focused on Researching pathways into higher education with students from refugee backgrounds. We primarily explored our experiences and some of our initial findings on the OLT project titled: (Re)claiming social capital: improving language and cultural pathways into Australian Higher Education for Students from Refugee background.
The project is a collaboration between University of Newcastle (UoN), Macquarie University (MQ) and Curtin University (CU). Presenting for our symposium were Associate Professor Seamus Fagan (UoN), Dr Sally Baker (UoN), Dr Mary Taiwo (MQ) and Shelly Gower (CU).
Ruth Tregale (MQ) and Seamus performed the roles of symposium chairperson and discussant respectively. Project team members not in attendance include Professor Jaya Dantas (CU), Sonal Singh (MQ), Evonne Irwin (UoN) and Anne Marie Ross (UoN).
The four symposium presentations each focused on a different aspect of researching with students from refugee backgrounds. Rhetorical questions were posed by each of the presenters, encouraging the audience to reflect and engage with the content, and to share their expertise as a group. Time was allocated for questions following the final speaker. Summaries of each presentation are provided below:
Presentation 1: Mapping the complexity: A nationwide audit of the pathways HEB students can take to enter Australian higher education
This presentation disseminated the results of a national audit of the pathways of entry to higher education across Australia. The audit focused on five broad educational levels: the school sector, the VET sector, enabling education, higher education and the community sector. The audit was arranged into geographical locations and around four broad themes: preparation for study financial support, social and community networks and access/admissions schemes. The presentation sought to recognise the complexity of transition for students who come from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, therefore challenging assumptions made about how students enter higher education and what knowledge and practices they bring with them.
Presentation 2: Challenging dominant ‘linear’ notions of transition: What can research with students from refugee backgrounds tell us about how transition is experienced?
This presentation highlighted that students from refugee backgrounds (SfRBs) may face unique difficulties in their journeys through higher education, given that they often come from CALD backgrounds, and have often experienced years of instability, trauma and disrupted schooling.
Firstly, the dominant assumptions about the linearity of transition are reductive and limiting, meaning that iterative, fluid and circular experiences of transitions into and through higher education are rarely supported.
Secondly, there is a critical absence of nuanced, contextualised and detailed accounts of how students from all backgrounds make their journeys from pre-university studies into, (out of) and through higher education.
Presentation 3: Longitudinal research methodology: The challenges of tracking students from refugee backgrounds over time
This presentation engaged in methodological discussion of our longitudinal, ethnographic inquiry into the educational trajectories into higher education of students from refugee backgrounds (SfRBs) from three different pathways — adult males in a regional city; high school certificate students in a metropolitan capital city; and new arrivals in Intensive English Centres in a metropolitan capital city.
Presentation 4: Navigating ethical considerations, implications and challenges in research with students from refugee backgrounds
The lack of clarity in current documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the NHMRC guidelines was evidenced as an indication that refugees are not provided with any particular consideration regarding their vulnerability. There is a reliance on the dedication and commitment of the researcher to be consistently reflexive throughout the process, not only in regards to the researchers own positioning but also to reaffirm the ongoing understanding and consent of participants. Questions posed in this section of the presentation included: In longitudinal research how often is too often to continually check whether their consent is ongoing? Does it differ between SfRBs and other participants?
There was a broad range of special interest groups featured at the conference. Featuring a symposium that focused on researching pathways into higher education with students from refugee backgrounds was timely following the various discussions conference participants had in other presentations. These discussions focused on the various experiences and barriers that students from refugee background encounter in their endeavour to gain further education in Australia.