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Refugee education halted by Govt funding cuts

Sep 16th, 2011 | By | Category: Diversity, Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

“I DRANK coffee all day. No one noticed I worked at night. Other students would fall asleep, but I stayed awake.”

For former asylum seeker Mohammad Ali Ameri (right), this was an average day when he began fulltime studies in New Zealand.

He is talking at an evening organised by ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, who are involved with refugee students struggling to complete tertiary studies.

His audience laughed as he described his surprise at domestic students coming to classes late and complaining of being tired: “They just woke up!”

Muhammad was one of the Tampa asylum seekers allowed into New Zealand by the Labour Government in 2004.  He is now a leader in the New Zealand Afghan community.

In 2010, the Government stopped providing refugee study grants and despite working full-time he was unable to continue his studies.

Mozhdeh Wafa (right), a refugee from Afghanistan, said she realised there were gaps in her knowledge of New Zealand in areas that domestic students took for granted.

“There is so much hidden knowledge about things like politics and history,” she said.

Foundation courses that increased student’s basic knowledge and taught them how to study successfully within the New Zealand tertiary system were becoming difficult to get into.

Funding was reduced and many of the available places were being given to international students who could pay large fees.

This meant she had more than language barriers to overcome in education.

The campaign launch at the Victoria University Law School was attended by academics, refugees, advocacy agencies and MPs.

Victoria University geography lecturer Sara Kindon told of tutor concerns that funding cutbacks by the Government mean New Zealand is missing an opportunity to improve the prospects of very motivated people.

“Currently, we don’t invest in people who can give back, who want to give back.”

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres acknowledged the research carried out by Victoria University students, who interviewed refugees to gain insight into their plight.

 “To make progress, to get out of a negative cycle, you need evidence,” he said.

“It gives you something to wave around during the election. And after the election.”

The paper, An Equitable Education, discusses the unique challenges faced by the students in completing their education and achieving economic independence.

These include fears about loved ones still in danger overseas, caring for family members who are settling into an unfamiliar culture, and the loss of community-based programmes to improve basic literacy and numeracy.

Refugee advocates say one solution to these problems would be to give refugee tertiary students equity status. This would provide targeted money and services to help them complete their courses.

Equity status has been used to improve study outcomes in other groups such as Pasifika and disabled students.

Mr de Bres suggested the paper be sent to the United Nations, which has the power to include the paper’s recommendation with its own to the New Zealand Government.

New Zealand is a signatory to a number of international conventions that guarantee social, economic and educational initiatives to ensure refugees are able to achieve independence and equality once resettled here.

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