Equity Groups: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) students

This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

Extract taken from Baker, S. & Irwin, E. (2019). Disrupting the dominance of ‘linear pathways’: how institutional assumptions create ‘stuck places’ for refugee students’ transitions into higher education, Research Papers in Education.

Students from refugee backgrounds and education in settlement contexts

Although resettlement represents a positive move towards security and re-establishing lives without fear, it is not without challenges. People from refugee backgrounds3 often struggle with adapting to new cultures, customs and languages, and navigating unfamiliar systems and institutions (Morrice 2009; Naidoo et al. 2015; Baker et al. 2018a). In particular, education is fundamental to effective integration, leading to better employment prospects and health outcomes (Ager and Strang 2008). There is growing interest in exploring SfRBs in higher education, which is proportionate to their increased participation in settlement higher education contexts internationally (for example, in Australia, see Joyce et al. 2010; Naidoo et al. 2015; Baker et al. 2018a; in the UK, see Stevenson and Willott 2010; Gately 2014; Student, Kendall, and Day 2017; and in Canada, see; Ferede 2010; Hirano 2014). In Australia, there is a paucity of data collected on SfRB participation in higher education. However, a 2016 report, which drew on the Australian census and Department of Education participation data, suggested that at the time of publication there were 3506 SfRBs enrolled in Australian higher education, which the authors claimed had doubled over the period 2009–2014. However, while these figures offered a much-needed picture of refugee participation in Australian data, issues remain with tracking these students. For example, while visa category information may be collected through admissions processes, institutions do not necessarily report on these data. Furthermore, adhering narrowly to participation according to visa categories will not illuminate the participation rates of students who have refugee-like back- grounds (but not a humanitarian entrant visa), or who have since taken citizenship of their resettlement country (see Ramsay et al. 2016 for discussion of ‘refugee-like’ students).

The research literature is particularly interested in students’ experiences of studying at university (for example, Earnest et al. 2010, Harris, Chi and Spark 2013), with several studies noting challenges with studying in a new language (Cocks and Stokes 2013; Naidoo et al. 2015), adapting to new academic practices (Hirano 2014; Wache and Zufferey 2013; Naidoo et al. 2015), mismatches in expectations of institutions and students (Wache and Zufferey 2013), cultural disconnections between home culture and the neoliberal culture (policies, practices) of the academy (Student, Kendall, and Day 2017), and the importance of ‘knowing the ropes’ and feeling a sense of belonging (Morrice 2009, 2013).

Despite this increased empirical and academic interest, Australian universities – like other countries that offer access to their higher education systems (see Baker, Ramsay and Lenette 2019 for accounts from both the global north and south) – often struggle to provide resources to fully support SfRBs, and frequently fail to recognise the rich and diverse range of languages, cultures, knowledges and practices that these students bring with them (Earnest et al. 2010; Lawson 2014; Ramsay et al. 2016). SfRBs often do not know about the supports that exist at university (Stevenson and Willott 2010; Gately 2014; Bajwa et al. 2017; Baker et al. 2018a), or are hindered by technological barriers to accessing support (Ramsay et al. 2016), and the support offered is rarely adapted to the specific needs of SfRBs, or to the needs of CALD students more generally (Joyce et al. 2010; Lawson 2014; Naidoo et al. 2015; Terry et al. 2016).

However, despite the increasing research attention given to SfRBs in higher educa- tion, there have been very few explorations of how this group move between educational levels and contexts. A notable exception is Naidoo et al.’s (2015) exploration of school–university pathways in Australia, which identified specific barriers to successful educational transition for SfRBs, such as language proficiency, differences in teaching approaches and support strategies, mixed messages along with a lack of support and guidance, a lack of flexibility in educational systems, and external issues related to finances and accommodation. From a more macro-level perspective, O’Rourke (2011) examined the policy context in New Zealand, and argues that a range of recently introduced policies had restricted the pathways available for refugees to access higher education, such as the termination of refugee study grants, reduced funding for specialist education and refugee services across the higher education system, and caps and reductions in places for university and enabling programs.4 However, there have been no studies to date that have engaged in longitudinal research with SfRBs seeking to track their journeys into (and out of) higher education. This article therefore aims to address this critical gap in the literature.

Dr Sally Baker is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sally’s research primarily focuses on equity in higher education, with her main interests being education policy, experiences of students from refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and educational transitions. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Refugee Education Special Interest Group and the educational focal point in the Forced Migration Research Network at UNSW.

The thematic organisation of the open access annotated bibliographies (OAABs) does not reflect the intersecting and complex overlaps of the various foci in the literature, so please keep in mind that this is an interpretive exercise and one that could easily be reworked by another set of authors. An important note to make is that these resources should not be read as ‘the reading’ of any piece — rather they reflect the interpretive lens of a small number of people and should therefore be used as a ‘way in’ to the academic and grey literature. Hyperlinks have been provided to each entry (where possible) so that you may be able to access the original texts (although many of these will be hidden behind pay walls, which we cannot override for copyright reasons).

Furthermore, it is important to note that these resources are not a ‘finished product’; rather, they are reflective of an on-going, iterative engagement with the inter/national literature that critically engages with issues relating to equity in education. As such, there are unintentional omissions in these resources — if you see a gap in the literature, please feel free to make this clear, or offer an entry for inclusion. This annotated bibliography will be updated every six months for the first year, and annually thereafter.