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“Here, there is the opportunity to choose a different path.” Cultural identity, supportive networks and higher education participation of refugee-background students in Australia

Hayes, Ali (2021) “Here, there is the opportunity to choose a different path.” Cultural identity, supportive networks and higher education participation of refugee-background students in Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

With his theories on habitus and social and cultural capital, Bourdieu posited a relationship between an individual’s social origin and their educational achievements. Therefore, this thesis uses Bourdieu’s theory of practice as a lens to understand the way discrimination, cultural identity and family and institutional supports influence the access of higher education of people from a refugee background. Facilitating the integration of refugees and asylum seekers in societies of resettlement is very important as countries are confronted with continued global refugee crises. While many people from a refugee background hold qualifications which are not recognised in Australia and do not possess the social capital required to confer them with upward social mobility, this thesis began with the assumption that people from a refugee background are disadvantaged in attaining a higher education in Australia. This thesis also uses Elias’ concept of figurations to better understand the social relationships of people from a refugee background and how it influences their access to higher education. Bourdieu’s and Elias’ social theories are used as lenses to analyse interview data with the aim of addressing these questions.

The qualitative research methods used in this thesis found that cultural identity has a varied influence on the access that refugee-background people have to higher education in Australia; the existing supports provided by universities are generic but helpful; and discrimination has a marginal effect of causing some refugee-background people to feel ambivalent towards higher education and feel concerned about being subjected to popular or institutional discrimination. The findings complement existing research by identifying the social and cultural factors which influence the access that refugee-background people have to Australian higher education.

In-depth interviews were conducted with twenty participants in Western Australia who all come from a refugee background. The gender of participants were 55% (11) females and 45% (9) males. The largest proportion of participants came from Somalia (30%), Afghanistan (20%), South Sudan (15%) and Iraq (15%). Most participants (85%) were enrolled in a university program or had completed a university degree in Australia. This thesis aims to build on existing literature by focusing on the influence of discrimination, cultural identity and support on the higher educational aspirations and experiences of people from a refugee background. This thesis complements existing literature in finding that individuals from a refugee background are not necessarily disadvantaged in gaining a higher education despite their seemingly incompatible habitus, and social and cultural capital.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Social Sciences and Arts
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Supervisor(s): Evers, Barbara and Perry, Laura
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/63500
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