Everyone has the right to live freely without the fear of war or persecution. Refugee Week is a time for contemplation and coming together to explore practical ways we can advocate for change. Universities can be agents for change in the humanitarian crisis – from providing equitable access to higher education for refugee students, to protecting academic freedoms and at-risk scholars.

Verity Firth recently hosted a panel session where Olga Oleinikova (UTS), Sally Baker (UNSW), Tebeje Molla (Deakin), Asher Hirsch (UTS) and UTS student Amir Ali Jalai Farahani discussed how universities were currently responding to the crisis and what more could be done in advocating change.

Current responses (and barriers)

The panelists noted the ways universities currently advocate for refugee freedoms. These include:

Not all universities do these (or do these well), and it was identified by Sally Baker that there were many barriers to be overcome and a lot more work to do. Tebeje Molla noted that there were three categories of response – giving opportunities, research/training, and advocacy – but that refugees lack visibility at the sector level.

The refugee crisis can unexpectedly hit close to home, as we learnt from Elham Hafiz’s recent reflection on the personal impacts of the crisis in Sudan. For Ukraine-born Olga Oleinikova it also became a topic very close to her, and her families and friends. She pinpointed short-term support for Ukrainians as one of the barriers, as they were not eligible for many services after an initial three months of a temporary protection program.

Student Amir Ali Jalai Farahani had a positive experience of the UTS Humanitarian Scholarship and he encouraged UTS to foster an inclusive environment where students feel valued and welcome.

A possible pathway

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs has raised the possibility of Refugee Education migration pathways being established in Australia. Asher Hirsch described this as “a complementary pathway” that can expand impact, while Sally Baker called it “a win/win”.

It gives the universities a real bespoke opportunity to create, to co-create
with government, co-create with civil society and, importantly, harness all of the goodwill that we know exists on every campus, with students and staff and alumni, to be able to come together and create a durable situation, a new durable solution.

Sally Baker

What more could we do?

Sally called for universities to:

  • challenge divisive discourses
  • shift employer perceptions
  • avoid working in silos

In addition, Asher suggested providing online university education to refugees who are overseas.

We have the technology now. We’ve all been through COVID and Zoom, teaching online. Most universities have a cloud or online version of the whole degree. And it doesn’t cost much more to just open that up to refugees in refugee camps in countries of asylum.

Asher Hirsch

You can watch the full recording of the ‘Finding Freedom’ panel session below:

How can I get involved?

Join the discussion