Tertiary pathways

Students from refugee backgrounds often need personalised support to understand and navigate senior school and post-school options.

The impact of traumatic experiences is significant for students and families from refugee backgrounds. They may have:

  • experienced trauma, torture, loss of family members, and may have emotional, mental or physical health problems
  • experienced significant disruption to their education
  • had little or no schooling prior to enrolment in an Australian school
  • low literacy skills in their first language
  • greater educational and support needs than other newly arrived students
  • limited understanding of the range of options and pathways available in Australia
  • financial barriers that limit their post-school options.

Despite these challenges, many students from a refugee background have enormous resilience and motivation to succeed and will benefit greatly if provided with the support they need to learn English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D).

What schools can do to support senior secondary students

  • Identify students with a refugee background, including asylum seeker students. Information can be found in the department's Enrolment and Registration Number (ERN) database.
  • EAL/D teachers in schools may be able to assist with identifying students and provide more background information as needed. Treat personal information about students and their backgrounds with sensitivity.
  • Support students with their subject selection for Year 11 and 12. Students will need to ensure they choose subjects that don't limit their options and provide them with the opportunity to gain an ATAR if they want to pursue a pathway directly into university.
  • Inform students about different pathways available if they are not interested or not ready to pursue tertiary education directly after school. Some students may benefit from completing vocational courses and certificate qualifications at TAFE or a private provider before undertaking university degrees. Many students are not aware of the transition opportunities and credit arrangements possible between high school, TAFE and University. Encourage students to choose subjects appropriate to their interests and current level of academic achievement.
  • Provide bilingual support at subject selection and information sessions for students and/or personalised interviews with parents/carers to help them understand the schooling system, subject choices and various tertiary pathways. Organise interpreting support to facilitate communication with parents/carers if required.
  • Ensure identified students arrange a meeting with the Careers Advisor or Transition Advisor to discuss their individual post-school pathway options. They may need assistance accessing the advisor and may benefit from having the support of a known teacher in the meeting.
  • Plan language and literacy support for career and transition activities collaboratively and include an EAL/D teacher in the Transition team.
  • Provide supported work experience/s for students to help develop the skills they need to seek employment and develop understanding about expectations in Australian workplaces. Some students will need someone to model these skills such as making a phone call, meeting potential employers and completing application forms. An EAL/D teacher may be able to support the Careers or Transition Advisor with this.
    • Settlement Services International and the Australian Red Cross provide information and links to community organisations around the state that support the employment and transition of students from refugee backgrounds.
    • Ready Arrive Work is a work readiness program for recently arrived students, delivered for schools by Job Quest. This program can help students from refugee backgrounds to gain a better understanding of employment, workplaces, career planning and career pathways after school.
    • Taster days at TAFE or University can provide an opportunity for students to tour a TAFE or university campus, meet with staff/students and gain a deeper understanding of the study opportunities for young school leavers. These can be organised directly with the TAFE CALD Coordinator.
    • Mentoring programs established by some universities and external organisations can also assist students in navigating their post-school pathways and develop their personal confidence. Examples include:
    • LEAP Macquarie Mentoring - Macquarie University
    • Fast Forward - Western Sydney University
  • Tutoring can provide additional support that students may need to ensure success at school. Many students will need help with completing homework and assessment tasks and may not have access to the internet or a home situation that is conducive to study.
    • Mercy Connect is a volunteer program to assist school students and their families settle in Australia. Tutors help students to develop their literacy and numeracy skills and meet their homework requirements.
    • The DREAM Project, designed by Reledev, provides help for students from refugee backgrounds with their studies and in preparing them for work.
    • Refugee Action Support provides focused literacy and numeracy tutoring at school by university students, many of whom are preservice teachers.
  • Provide students with information about financial support, including scholarships available, to help them make decisions about their educational pathways. More information about financial support is provided below.

    Financial support

    Students from refugee backgrounds often face financial barriers that can prohibit their direct pathways into tertiary education. The cost for citizens, permanent residents, temporary residents and asylum seekers varies greatly and many of these students will need financial support to access further study.

    The Australian Government site Study Assist also provides information for students about government assistance for financing tertiary study.

    Currently, students who are seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas are not eligible to receive support through federal government programs designed to assist students with financing tertiary study. In addition, the Universities Admission Centre (UAC) and tertiary institutions are not able to distinguish this group of students with a humanitarian background from other temporary visa holders.

    Without financial assistance, students who are seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas are forced to pay international student rates for tertiary education. A number of universities are now offering full fee waiver scholarships for these students. Asylum seeker students are encouraged to apply for different scholarships that can assist them with their tertiary study or approach universities directly, explaining their financial situation.

    For students who are not ready or do not wish to attend university, Vocational Education and Training courses from Certificate I to Advanced Diploma level are available. Students who meet certain criteria can access fee-free training for qualifications up to Certificate IV level on the NSW Smart and Skilled list.


    Many universities offer scholarships for students to support them whilst engaged in tertiary study. Some scholarships are available through the UAC website whilst some universities require direct application through their websites. It is advisable for students to explore both ways of accessing university pathways.

    Tertiary pathways (PDF 309 KB) provides an overview of post-school and tertiary scholarships for students from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds. It includes a wide range of programs offered by universities and other institutions. The information aims to assist EAL/D and mainstream teachers, school leaders, careers and transition advisors in supporting senior students from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds to access post-school qualifications or tertiary education. Use the links provided to access up-to-date information about the programs offered in 2023-2024.

    Students will require support to complete scholarship applications as the process can be difficult and overwhelming. Time will be needed to gather the evidence and documents required to support each application.

    Students will need to write supporting statements and they will also need to provide supporting references or letters from their teachers/school about their participation and progress at school and their potential for further study or employment.

    UAC Equity Scholarships help financially disadvantaged students with general costs associated with tertiary study. In addition, it may be helpful for students to contact the Equity teams at each university.

    The Friends of Zainab Tertiary Scholarship granted by the Public Education Foundation is for refugee students planning to transition to university and gives an annual bursary of $2,000 for the first two years of full-time university study.

    The Good Universities Guide provides tips and advice for students applying for scholarships and help with finding the right course.

Other places that can help

Career learning and VET on the department website links to career and further study information and details on programs that support the career and transition needs of all students.

The TAFE NSW Counselling and Career Development Service is a free and confidential service available to support students studying at TAFE. Prospective TAFE NSW students are also able to access the service to assist with course choice decisions and career planning.

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) is the national umbrella body for refugees and the organisations and individuals who support them. The RCOA website provides information about the education system in Australia, different types and levels of education programs that can support education, and scholarships.

The Asylum Seekers Centre provides practical and personalised support for people seeking asylum living in the community. Services include casework, accommodation, financial relief, health care and counselling, employment assistance, education, advocacy, food and recreational activities.


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