Refugees have easier access to tertiary education thanks to a partnership between Western Sydney University (WSU) and Settlement Services International (SSI).
People from refugee backgrounds at Western Sydney University learning about local tertiary education pathways.
A multilingual program of workshops was developed by SSI’s Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) Orientation Team, with WSU supporting people navigating university enrolment.
WSU’s Widening Participation Engagement Marketing Community Project Officer, Bronwyn Williams, said the workshops were adapted to suit an online format to keep delivering the program when COVID-19 placed restrictions on large face-to-face interactions.
“With young people, the online format works well as this is a demographic that likes to do everything from the comfort of their own home,” she said.
Four workshops had 120 participants from an array of cultural backgrounds, including members from the Arabic, Persian and African communities, who were grouped into language cohorts.
Nihal Al-Rahmani, a 21-year-old Iraqi refugee who is a part of the HSP program, attended a workshop that was translated into Arabic. She said being able to access the tertiary pathways workshop empowered her to study.
“I found it very helpful because most of the information was new to me. I didn’t know I could go to university straight away … I thought I needed to do a certain course before I could enrol. It was great to learn I can go straight to university.”
While there were concerns about hosting the workshops online, participants still gained valuable information.
Solomon Fantahun Wube, a 40-year-old Ethiopian refugee, attended one of the workshops in English. After improving his English speaking skills at TAFE he plans to attend university.
“It was good for me to get information, so now I know what I need to do to go to university,” he said.
Since the workshops finished in October, 10 participants have contacted local universities. The universities accommodate the students’ needs, with support offered from SSI for the entire application process.
Ms Al-Rahmani, who is currently deciding between enrolling into business administration or health science at WSU, said that she found the process valuable.
“At the beginning, I was lost,” she said.
“SSI helped me to do my resume and assisted me to navigate pathways to university. They told me what courses are available, how to enrol, and provided me with information from the orientation and case management team.”
Collaboration on higher education pathways has been part of the collaboration between WSU and SSI since 2017.
In the past, the SSI team would take participants to “Taster Days”, where newly arrived refugees would meet the WSU team and get introduced to the university.
“The WSU and SSI partnership has been in the works for a few years, but this year has been a particularly impressive turnout,” said Dr Alfred Mupenzi, who specialises in refugee communities and is a co-facilitator of the workshops.
He said that program’s outcomes already showed promising results, with a growing demand for more workshops.
“It’s worked very well so far. Everyone has a different journey and we try to capture that with the way we facilitate, both during the workshops and in our follow up communications.”