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Introducing the Refugee Student Settlement Pathway

At a recent conference held by the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, we were privileged to hear from Sally Baker, a researcher based at Australian National University (ANU). Sally has been working hard to implement a settlement program for refugees coming to Australia, that would give them opportunities to succeed via higher education. 

As of May 2023, over 110 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, of which 35.3 million are refugees. Higher education is largely inaccessible for refugees, with only 7 per cent currently enrolled in college or university. The Refugee Student Settlement Program (RSSP) aims to enact change in this area, following the UNHCR’s pledge to provide 15 per cent of refugee youth with access to higher education by 2030.

Following increases in humanitarian migration to Australia, this program would be revolutionary, helping refugees to make a fresh start in a new country after unimaginable struggles.

The RSSP would be a collaboration between the Australian Government, participating universities and relevant community groups to provide practical settlement support. This support would include lodging visa applications, financial support and help with accessing Centrelink, temporary accommodation, academic and English language preparation and counselling services.

While the RSSP would be the first of its kind in Australia, a similar program has been running in Canada since 1978. The Student Refugee Program has supported over two thousand young refugees from 39 countries through higher education. We spoke with Ahmad Al-kheat, a software engineer from Iraq and Syria, who participated in the Canadian program in 2011 and subsequently moved to Australia in 2017.

Ahmad reflects on his journey through the program, saying it enabled him to study for four years at Queen’s University in Ontario. After graduation, he was able to get work in his field as a software engineer.

“Without higher education, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

He’s positive about the impact the RSSP could have on refugees looking to come to Australia, enabling them to enter the workforce with confidence.

“Such a program would help refugees greatly. Without [it], refugees can’t afford higher education costs.” 

The RSSP Blueprint is being co-designed by the Australian Federal Government, the higher education sector, refugee advocacy organisations and students with lived experience of forced migration. These groups are consulting with over 60 stakeholders to ensure the program is relevant and has a high chance of success. 

Currently, the program is sitting with Cabinet, awaiting approval. The execution of the program would create life-changing educational opportunities for hundreds of displaced students, allowing them to start a new life in Australia.