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Navigating higher education in Bangladesh and New Zealand: What can we learn from refugee-background women students?

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 12:00pm – 12:30pm parallel session



Room 4 – 303-G16, Sem



Dr Vivienne Anderson
University of Otago, New Zealand

Dr Tiffany Cone
Asian University for Women, Bangladesh



Many refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people face challenges accessing education. Internationally, efforts to address this have tended to focus on primary and secondary education. However, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees recognises access to higher education (HE) as a key enabler of independence and integration. HE provides people with skills and knowledge that are useful whether they are repatriated, locally integrated, or resettled. It is essential to economic development, and to peace-making and nation-building projects, particularly in post-conflict zones. Further, access to HE supports people’s sense of belonging and normalcy in a new society. Our study was a narrative inquiry that explored 22 international and refugee-background women’s storied accounts of accessing, navigating, and thinking beyond HE in Bangladesh and New Zealand. The study was informed by recent calls to consider the ‘complex spatialities’ of internationalised HE (Madge, Raghuram & Noxolo, 2015), and questions of relationality and responsibility that these entail (Madge, Raghuram & Noxolo, 2009). In this presentation, we draw on interviews with 10 refugee-background women: four in New Zealand, and six in Bangladesh. The women imagined university as both an expected pathway and a means of escape, and described their studies in terms of ‘just another move’ or ‘independent exploration’. Their envisioned futures involved migration, employment, and ‘change-making’ for their families and communities. We begin the presentation by situating our study in relation to the relevant literature, and describing our study contexts and methodology. Then, we examine the women’s accounts, highlighting ‘small steps’ they identified through which higher education institutions (HEIs) might support refugee-background students’ success. We conclude by calling for HEIs to: (1) be wary of grand narratives in relation to refugee-background students; (2) affirm students’ necessary skilfulness while supporting their capacity to navigate HE; and (3) recognise students’ external commitments and influence.



Madge, C., Raghuram, P., & Noxolo, P. (2009). Engaged pedagogy and responsibility: A postcolonial analysis of international students. Geoforum, 40(1), 34-45. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2008.01.008
Madge, C., Raghuram, P., & Noxolo, P. (2015). Conceptualizing international education: From international student to international study. Progress in Human Geography, 39(6), 681-701. doi:10.1177/0309132514526442


Presentation topic

Students – Wellbeing and Success

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