SIG Quarterly Refugee Education Special Interest Group Newsletter April 2019


A Message from Sally Baker, RESIG Co-Chair

March 2019 Quarter Wrap Up

Deakin CREATE: An interview with Co-Directors, Karen Dunwoodie and Professor Alexander Newman

Making Connections

Opening Universities for Refugees (OUR) 3C Symposium: Project Eucalyptus

Message from Sally Baker

Dear colleagues

Welcome to the April 2019 edition of the Refugee Education SIG newsletter. It’s been a busy month, with continued focus on coordinating, persuading, negotiating and begging in our pursuit of responding to the action points that we established at the OUR Project Eucalyptus symposium in November 2019. Watch this space for an update on the short-term action points! We are also busy organising the follow up event - United Voices for Change - which will take place at Western Sydney University from 18-20 November (put the dates in your calendar!). As if we weren’t busy enough, we are also organising a refugee education-focused symposium for the Enabling Equity conference in Wollongong in November 2019 - if you are interested in participating, please email me on sally.baker@unsw.edu.au. Finally, we are planning for our next teleconference, which will take place on June 13th. We will be discussing the implications of the federal election for refugee education, and equity in higher education more broadly. We are happy to advise that we will be joined by Gabrielle O’Brien, President of EPHEA, and a representative from RCOA to discuss the ramifications for refugees, advocates and educators moving forward.

Thanks as always to our wonderful secretariat - John Tran - for putting together another insightful newsletter, this time featuring an interview with the directors of the new Centre of Refugee Employment, Training, Advocacy and Education (CREATE) at Deakin University: our very own co-chair Karen Dunwoodie and Professor Alex Newman.

Thanks all - enjoy!

In solidarity

Dr Sally Baker

Refugee Education SIG Co-Chair

Quarter Wrap-Up

SIG Nationwide Conferences have moved to a bi-annual conference mode. The first nationwide web conference is on 13-June. Check your inbox for the conference login details, or contact SIG.

Affiliated SIG Conferences: CREATE will host a web-conference and discussion forum on refugee Employability in early Sept (dates to be finalised)

March 28: Discussion Panel - Queensland Access To Higher Education for People Seeking Asylum on 12 April. Invitations were sent out on 28-March. RSVP to be there in person, contact Chris Miranda 0438 621 383 . To dial-in and listen to the discussion remotely, contact SIG.

March 28: One of our members, Sue Oldham, shared a resource. Research by Dr Carly Copolov, titled: "Predictors of Wellbeing, Adaptation and Help-Seeking for Mental Health Problems in Young Hazaras from Refugee backgrounds: A Mixed Methods Project."

March 14: Co-Chairs of SIG, Karen Dunwoodie and Sally Baker have just returned from a ridiculously quick trip to Edinburgh (3 days) where they participated in an event co-hosted by the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Association of Francophile Universities, and the British Council, titled ‘Extending the Welcome: Long-term approaches to supporting refugees and at-risk scholars in higher education’. They reported: "We returned to Australia feeling optimistic and with lots of great ideas after hearing colleagues from Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya, Canada, NZ, the US and the UK. I am hopeful that this collaboration between these peak bodies will offer some of the top/medium-level coordination to complement our grassroots organising/ networking in Australia." if anyone is interested in hearing more, contact Sally, as she would be happy to send through the slides that were presented on behalf of the Refugee Education SIG and CREATE.

March 2: Our newly appointed Co-Chair, Karen Dunwoodie, was also appointed Co-Director at Deakin CREATE which officially launched early March. An article in the Guardian featuring CREATE is in the following link:

Feb 28: Visa Rejections. An important issue was raised by Karen Dunwoodie (Co-Chair SIG, Co-Director CREATE) regarding a step by step guide for those assisting students whom have faced 1st and 2nd rejections. As this is such a complex issue and requires some legal knowledge, our partners are still working on a way to best help those who may receive tricky questions regarding this issue.

Jan: Jemma Wiseman from Foundation House, who is also a SIG member shared this resource: 'School is where you need to be equal and learn’: Insights from students of refugee backgrounds on learning and engagement in Victorian secondary schools (2019). This report presents the findings of a research project conducted by the Schools Support Program at the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House). This project sought out the insights of students of refugee backgrounds on the barriers and facilitators to learning and engagement at school. Focus groups were conducted at three Victorian secondary schools, with 51 students (aged 13–19). The students were all from refugee backgrounds and had arrived in Australia within the past seven years. Through this project the Schools Support Program was able to learn directly from students of refugee backgrounds, and position them, through their lived experience, as experts on ‘what works’ to support them at school.


Karen Dunwoodie and Professor Alex Newman started CREATE, the Deakin Centre for Refugee Employment, Advocacy, Training and Education, which launched last month in March. CREATE’s stated aim as mentioned on its website is,

“to build knowledge and understanding of how best to support people from a refugee background to rebuild their careers after leaving their home country through obtaining meaningful employment and accessing vocational training and education.”

The work by Karen and Alex brings into focus the importance of sustainable solutions for people from refugee backgrounds to rebuild their livelihoods and is a very welcomed development in this space. We often hear more about advocacy work around acceptance of refugees or asylum seekers against the government’s policies, but we don’t hear enough about how we can tackle the issue of access to education and employment for people from a refugee background. I caught up with both Karen and Alex to find out just how important their work has been leading up to this launch and what can we look to CREATE for now and in the near future.

Alex, you are a Professor in the Deakin Business and Law Faculty and an Associate Dean for International Business. I am just so fascinated that someone like you can be so heavily involved in something like this because we don’t traditionally see business faculty members get involved so often. There must be a personal ‘spark’ within you that says, “I can’t agree with what’s happening and I want to do something about this!” Can you tell us about how you got involved and then what made you try to work towards CREATE?

Alex: My day-to-day role involves managing international student recruitment, partnerships and student exchange. The other half of my work is in research around different business issues. I publish quite a lot across the management space whether it be in leadership, psychology, business ethics or entrepreneurship. Around 2013, I saw so many negative reports in the media around refugees in Australia. Then I thought, it would be interesting to do research on the question around, ‘how to integrate refugees into the workforce’. We won a grant from the Australian Research Council and started to do work on refugee employment issues.

So, Karen. Can you tell us a little background about you, how you met Alex and developed the concept of CREATE together?

"I can remember volunteering for the Red Cross in 2012 and I was very much on the frontline with supporting those who had been released from detention."
Karen Dunwoodie, Deakin CREATE Co-Director and RESIG Co-Chair

Karen: I have always volunteered in this space for a long time. I can remember volunteering for the Red Cross in 2012 and I was very much on the frontline with supporting those who had been released from detention. Building a network of people across the refugee agencies was so important, because this enabled us to provide their clients with much needed material aid, be it food, washing machines or housing as well as social and emotional support. So, I was very active in the community and I heard all sorts of stories from refugees and case workers. During this time caseworkers were overworked and were trying very hard to seek employment for refugees. A lot of the jobs refugees managed to find were just ‘survivor jobs.’ I wanted to do something about this and thought about how I could best help. In other words, how could I help foster longer lasting change? There needed to be alternative ways in which people could be re-establish their livelihoods, and there needed to be greater understanding from employers and institutions. So, I decided to do something and wrote a research proposal and sent it to a wonderful academic at Monash, Professor Sue Webb. Sue met with me the following Monday and mentioned Alex had been seeking someone with my background and experience for a project he was working on. I met with Alex a couple of days later, when he also offered to become my second PhD supervisor. Together we worked on many projects around the question of how we can help to rebuild people’s livelihoods after experiencing trauma and we wanted to make our work more scalable and have a broader impact. From this, Alex and I proposed the idea of CREATE.

"From this research we see how programs build career self-efficacy and optimism of participants and ultimately lead to transition into employment."

What does CREATE do in terms of its day to day activities and can you give us some examples of current and future projects?

Alex: You can look at it in terms of Research and Practice. The research we do informs our practice. The day-to-day activities of CREATE sees us working with organisations (including universities, the corporate sector, state and local government, NFP and refugee agencies) that share our philosophy. In particular, we work with refugee agencies to evaluate their programs and help design new programs to help people with a refugee background rebuild their livelihoods through access to the right employment and education. We try to work with organisations and see how their programs can become more effective, more scalable. An example is working with Career Seekers to evaluate their career training and internship program. From this research we see how programs build career self-efficacy and optimism of participants and ultimately lead to transition into employment.

Karen: Members of the research centre have also developed “A Guide for Employers”, which is available to anyone who wants to use this resource (see link below). It’s part of our fundamental philosophy of our practice informing our research and our research informing our practice. We are also in the process of designing careers counselling workshops and clinics, for final year university students on humanitarian or sanctuary scholarships – currently attending any university here in Victoria. We will also involve people who have arrived with overseas work experience and qualifications but are finding it almost impossible to re-establish their livelihoods or seek employment, which truly utilises their skill set. We are also looking at working with other partners to create a guide for supporting students transitioning through university and will release a draft version of this for comment and feedback in May 2019.

How do other organisations work with CREATE, what are you looking for?

Karen: There are different ways in which organisations who share our philosophy can work with us. We can help them to design employment programs, evaluate their programs, or conduct joint research together. We also work at the individual level, providing education and careers advice to those wishing to access vocation or higher education as well as assistance in finding employment or seeking careers guidance.

Are you looking for individuals to work for you?

Karen: Anyone that shares our philosophy can collaborate with us but when hiring and paying individuals, we want to walk the talk. Therefore, we plan on providing opportunities to both current undergraduate and post grad students from refugee backgrounds to become research assistants. We’ve recently hired our first research assistant who fits the criteria. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you when the next position will be open as it is all dependent on CREATE getting more funding and having more partners on board.

Do you think there is scope for CREATE to get much bigger or be replicated elsewhere?

Alex: There is certainly scope for us to grow here and there is a lot of work to do. However, there are opportunities for it to be replicated elsewhere as well. There is a lot of interest from other universities in Australia and overseas, but at the same time there needs to be leverage or “academic gravitas”. My personal belief is you can’t have a side operation out of an ‘equity and inclusion office’ at a university. There needs to be a research focus with a senior academic associated with it or overseeing it.

What are some of your challenges going forward?

Alex: Long term funding. We have secured funding for now, but we need to engage corporate donors and partners for the long term. Additionally, we are also looking for grant and research partnering opportunities in this space.

How important do you think your work around Employment for Refugees and Asylum Seekers is?

Alex: It’s very important because it has many positive knock-on effects. You can see people’s lives change for the better and big improvements to their mental health. And the flip side of this is if they don’t get employed or are just employed in ‘survivor jobs’, it creates depression, or exacerbates depression and anxiety from trauma that was already there. We see a lot of efforts being put in by colleagues and advocates for refugee rights in our community, but it doesn’t change the government’s stance. There’s a real practical element of tackling the issue of employment for refugees and getting the business community to be behind them because it helps them rebuild their livelihoods. The added benefit is that this also changes people’s attitudes towards refugees as they see them succeed in the world of work.

If you have advice for people like yourself working in this space – you know, the ones who want to help refugees, what would it be?

Karen: You need to look at what you are doing in this space and ask yourself, is your heart truly in it? I genuinely believe, that this is not a space you can drift in and out of, nor can you immerse yourself in the Refugee space without having a deep understanding of the impact of policy, practices and narrative on the people you are working with. Because if you don’t, then you must continually ask yourself, ‘who am I doing this for and why?’

Alex: I’ve worked in this space since 2014 and I have been fortunate enough to make a relatively successful career as an academic before. I’ve gained the exposure I needed to have in my field. For me now, it’s about giving back. It’s doing the best I can to get the community behind CREATE. The only advice I’m giving is that, if you can help refugees, if you can give back, then do it!

Refugee Education Special Interest Group thanks Karen Dunwoodie and Professor Alex Newman for the time and effort taken to participate in this interview and share with us their thoughts on the current refugee education and employment context here in Australia and why CREATE is such a very welcome and timely addition to this space.

If you would like to find out more about CREATE, then go to:

If you would like to contact Karen or Alex about CREATE please email k.dunwoodie@deakin.edu.au

Interview conducted by John Tran, RESIG Secretariat

Photo: Professor Alexander Newman, Deakin CREATE Co-Director and Associate Dean of International Business at Deakin University

Making Connections

Many refugees and people seeking asylum are keen to study at university to enable pathways to meaningful work, but face barriers in navigating the university system. These students can be intimidated by the impersonal nature of accessing online information about their courses and prefer personal contact. In response to this situation, in 2018 the Academics for Refugees network at Macquarie University, Sydney established a pilot mentoring program called Making Connections. It has linked 18 mentees one-on-one with a supportive academic mentor from their faculty to help students navigate the complexities of university life and feel more at home at university. Recognising that writing assessments is a key skill; mentees are also offered three writing sessions with a trained peer writing leader.

Photo: Students from a refugee background at Macquarie University, mentees of Making Connections

Making Connections steering members. From left, Phillipa Bellemore, Rifae Tammas, Professor Anina Rich
"An enthusiastic response was given by academics with over 115 applications, many Professors and Associate Professors, representing most faculties."

The program’s steering committee consists of senior academics, a refugee background student, a PhD student and staff from Library Learning Skills and Widening Participation unit. The committee is a passionate group who have worked hard to design, write and develop the program.

A distinguishing feature of the program is that it involves academics as mentors. An enthusiastic response was given by academics with over 115 applications, many Professors and Associate Professors, representing most faculties. Several mentors are from refugee backgrounds, while others are from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The program goes beyond a quick match. It involves training mentors and mentees, clear boundaries, a Code of Conduct, careful linking, feedback and ongoing support of both mentors and mentees. Currently, mentoring matches meet at least monthly for one hour. Mentors and mentees give feedback through bi-monthly “debriefs” where mentors and mentees separately meet as a group with coordinators. Mentees are a heterogenous group whose needs vary. The opportunity to have a mentor from their own school and faculty gives mentees valued insights around concerns such as planning study trajectories, choosing units, time management, coping with setbacks and approaching tutors and lecturers.

"The hope is that the program continues and improves with evaluation insights and that this initiative is taken up by other universities in Australia and elsewhere."

Evaluation is an integral component and the program receives feedback from mentees and mentors through surveys and stories from debriefs. Initial feedback has been encouraging with both mentors and mentees expressing positive experiences.

While some mentees require straightforward support, others have needed more intense mentoring and referral to services such as counselling and course advisors. Some mentees travel long distances to university or experience family demands that have meant they are not able to attend debriefs and sometimes cancel mentoring sessions.

Making Connections is a low-cost innovative program which offers promising support to refugee background students. It has been funded for 2019. The hope is that the program continues improves with evaluation insights and that this initiative is taken up by other universities in Australia and elsewhere.

For further information please feel free to contact:


Opening Universities for Refugees

OUR 3C Symposium: Project Eucalyptus

Republished with permission from UNSW Forced Migration Research Network annual report (2018)

Opening Universities for Refugees (OUR) is an international initiative that brings together institutions that offer, and are willing to offer, higher education courses and/or diploma and certificate programs to people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. OUR’s principal aim is to create an open and accessible knowledge network accessible by all to push for better educational opportunities and outcomes for people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

The Australian 3C Forum—titled Project Eucalyptus—took place at UNSW over two days in November 2018 as a collaborative venture between OUR, 2016 Young People’s Human Rights Medal recipient Arash Bordbar, the Forced Migration Research Network, UNSW’s Grand Challenges on Refugees and Migrants, the Refugee Council of Australia Education Special Interest Group. This free forum sought to build effective collaborations amongst participants leading to new initiatives to increase access to, participation in, and successful transitions out of higher education, not only for recently resettled refugees in Australia, but also for displaced communities in the region. Our main goal was to involve as many interested parties and stakeholders as possible, from all levels of engagement and responsibility for refugee and asylum seeker education, to ensure the participation of the most representative group of people who have the energy and expertise to develop solutions to the challenges posed by the provision of higher education in Australia, and to examine Australia’s role in supporting higher education provision in transit countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Participants came from across the country, representing, universities, institutions, schools, the NSW Department of Education, and Professor Peter Shergold, Coordinator General of Refugee Resettlement for NSW.

The ‘unconference’ format of the first day — a hallmark of the OUR ‘3C’ event series — yielded rich descriptions, observations and insights into the complexities of supporting students with higher education in the resettlement context of Australia, as well as possible ways for Australian institutions to support the opening of access to higher education in the Asia-Pacific region. These conversations from day 1 were distilled into four thematic working groups on the second day, which met with a mandate to action plan according to SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound) principles, over three timeframes: short-term (March 2019), medium-term (November 2019), and longer-term (November 2020). These action plans were presented at the end of the second day, and were announced by Professor Peter Shergold. These plans will help to maintain the momentum for the future collective action and advocacy for the participants and the wider networks of the Forced Migration Research Network and the Refugee Education Special Interest Group for the next two years.


Dr Sally Baker, Steering Group Member, FMRN

Keren David, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

Arash Bordbar, OUR/ Western Sydney University

Gul Inanc, OUR

Photo: Arash Bordbar, Ainsworth Building, UNSW Sydney Campus, NSW



Refugee Education Special Interest Group acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we work and live in, whose cultures and customs have nurtured, and continue to nurture, this land since the Dreamtime. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.

RESIG Co-Chairs: Dr Sally Baker, Dr Alfred Mupenzi, and Karen Dunwoodie

RESIG Steering Committee: Asher Hirsch, Sonal Singh, Tina Donaghy, Nadine Liddy, Jane Finlay, Lesley Cioccarelli, Abiola Ajetomobi, Alisha Taylor-Jones, Kate Duyvestyn, Husham Hamid, Djibril Diallo, Rajindri De Silva, Amanda Moors-Mailei, Elena Killiakova and Sally Morgan

Secretariat work supported by John Tran and Macquarie University

Refugee Education Special interest Group is hosted and supported by Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA)


Contact: educationsig@refugeecouncil.org.au

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