Enhancing higher education participation of African refugee youth

The challenge

During the past 40 years, Australia has resettled thousands of African refugees. Many are young people who have fled their homes to escape violence and spent years in refugee camps, where they’ve had limited access to education. When they arrive in Australia, they are in such a disadvantaged social position that it can be difficult for them to make the most of any educational opportunities. A lack of participation in the education system can lead to limited job opportunities, low income, and social disengagement. While the number of African refugees settling in Australia has significantly increased since the mid-1990s, social integration of young people remains a critical challenge.

Project overview

In 2019, Dr Tebeje Molla was awarded a Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) aimed at uncovering the barriers that young African refugees face in higher education and finding ways to improve their chances of participation.

This project aimed do discover why African refugee youth have limited access to social opportunities such as higher education. Very little is known about the extent to which they have benefited from equity provisions and what mediates their ability to take advantage of such opportunities. The project identified barriers to participation and institutional ‘best practices’ that have had positive effects on young African refugees’ transition to higher education.

The project generated data from a number of sources. Forty-four young African Australians from refugee backgrounds, equity managers of five universities, and career advisors and Multicultural Education Aides of nine government secondary schools were interviewed. Higher education participation data were secured from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training. In addition, national and institutional equity policy documents were reviewed.

Young African refugees hold high educational and career aspirations. With the right support in high school and university, these young people can thrive. Early intervention is critical and tailored educational opportunities should be accessible to newly settled refugees.


In addition to scholarly outputs such as journal articles, book chapters and conference papers, Dr Molla has produced a teacher’s guide based on his findings from this project. The guide is designed to give secondary school teachers the tools they need to help young African refugees succeed. It outlines five principles and 20 specific strategies of inclusive teaching practices that can enhance academic engagement and learning outcomes among African students from refugee backgrounds.