Structural Factors Associated with Higher Education Access for First-Generation Refugees in Canada: An Agenda for Research

Article excerpt

Abstract

Refugees are the least educated migrants upon arrival to Canada. Yet, they invest in Canadian higher education at lower rates than other newcomers. Why might this be? This paper enters this emergent conversation through a review of the Canadian-based empirical literature on the structural factors associated with refugees' tertiary education access. Research indicates that as part of the low-income population, refugees are likely to misperceive the cost and benefits of higher education and be deterred by high tuition costs. Academic preparedness and tracking in high schools also pose additional constraints. The gap in the literature exposes a need for inquiry into the ways in which pre-arrival experiences influence refugees' participation in Canada's post-secondary institutions. The paper concludes by underscoring the need for qualitative research that discerns the lived experiences of refugees outside of the aggregate immigrant grouping typical in education research.

Resume

A leur arrivee, les refugies forment le groupe le moins eduque des immigrants au Canada. Pourtant, ils investissent dans l'education superieure au pays dans une plus faible proportion que les autres nouveaux arrivants. Pourquoi? Cet article contribue a ce nouveau sujet de discussion au moyen d'une revue de la litterature basee au Canada portant sur les facteurs structurels associes a l'acces des refugies a l'education superieure. La recherche revele qu'a titre de membres de la population a faible revenu, les refugies sont plus susceptibles d'avoir une perception erronee eles couts et des avantages d'une education superieure et d'en etre dissuades par les droits d'inscription eleves. La preparation et le suivi pedagogiques a l'ecole secondaire apportent des contraintes supplementaires. Le manque de litterature sur le sujet met en relief le besoin d'explorer en quoi les experiences pre-immigration influent sur la participation des refugies a l'education postsecondaire au Canada. L'article se termine par une mise en relief du besoin de recherches qualitatives qui discernent les experiences vecues par les refugies sans avoir recours aux regroupements globaux sur l'immigration qui sont typiques des recherches sur l'education.

Introduction

Immigrant newcomers to Canada do not participate in Canadian higher education at equal rates. Scholars note that it is already highly educated newcomers who are most likely to choose to pursue post-secondary education in their new host country. (1) Refugees, who are the least educated migrants at arrival and are usually unable to return to their country of origin, invest in Canadian post-secondary education at lower rates. (2) Why might this be? This paper enters into this emergent conversation through a review of the Canadian-based empirical literature on the structural factors associated with refugees' tertiary education access.

While there is a growing body of knowledge on post-secondary access for native-born Canadians, relatively little is known about refugees' entry into Canada's higher education system. (3) This is partly due to the fact that K-16 school systems across Canada have traditionally not collected data on students' refugee designation. (4) Consequently, knowledge specific to the resettled refugee experience is often lost within the folds of aggregated educational research. However, since refugees' pre-arrival experiences often differ in important ways from those of voluntary immigrants, research that discerns their distinct experiences is warranted. (5) This paper provides a reflective synthesis and analysis on the available scholarship to serve as a precursor for this essential research.

Why should Canada care about refugee's access to higher education? What contextualizing pre-arrival factors need to be considered? What matters for refugees' access to post-secondary education in Canada? In this paper, I investigate these questions within two sections. …

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