Unsettling equity frames in Australian universities to embrace people seeking asylum

Sue Webb, Karen Dunwoodie, Jane Wilkinson

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Transnational migration, especially the growth of forced migration is unsettling the literature on widening access to university education. Equity definitions and understandings that frame social inclusion have presumed stable domestic populations within nations and targeted redressing historic internal social inequalities. Refugees and people seeking asylum have high aspirations to access to university education to gain recognition or update qualifications. University access for refugees and people seeking asylum is hampered by restricted funding entitlements that privilege citizens and admissions criteria that position them in the international student market and favour language and cultural requirements that reflect the dominant national culture. A qualitative narrative-based case-study of the admissions practices in one university in Australia explored the opportunities and blockages experienced by those seeking access and the dilemmas recognised by the admissions’ gatekeepers. Employing organisational theory and Scott’s three pillars of a neo-institutional framework, the regulative, the normative and the cultural-cognitive pillars, the article argues that homogenised institutional policies and practices to assess applications construct norms of access and equity, which create new exclusions for forced migrants. In revealing how some gatekeepers sought to ‘workaround’ these practices of exclusion, the article provides hope that informal learning within organisations can lead to organisational change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-120
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Lifelong Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • access
  • forced migrants
  • Higher education
  • organisational theory
  • refugees

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