University of Canberra offers discounted degrees to five asylum seekers

A novel agreement will make the higher education dreams of five asylum seekers graduating from Dickson College possible. Director of Companion House Kathy Ragless, University of Canberra deputy vice-chancellor (education) Professor Nicholas Klomp and Dickson College principal Craig Edwards. Photo: Graham TidyThey fled conflict zones, arrived as unaccompanied minors by boat to Australia and without family have mastered English and made it through high school.

Despite coming so far, asylum seekers and newly settled refugees don’t qualify for Commonwealth study subsidies and are faced with the prospect of paying upfront international student fees for higher education.

However, a new deal struck between Companion House and the University of Canberra will lift the financial burden by offering discounted fees for five students.

University of Canberra deputy vice-chancellor Professor Nicholas Klomp said the scholarship meant international fees would be waived and five recipient students would instead pay 10 per cent less than domestic student course fees.

“It is thousands and thousands of dollars less, so it really brings it down to the vaguely more affordable for these students,” he said.

“If they are suitably qualified to study then it would be unjust not to offer them that opportunity, so I am glad we are going that extra mile for students who find themselves in a really difficult situation.”

Director of Companion House Kathy Ragless said each student recipient would still need to pay $8190 a year – the equivalent to what a domestic student would pay in HECS.

“We have to fundraise to cover that gap,” she said. “We will have to raise $40,000 for the group each year until they finish their courses.”

Reasonable access to higher education was a growing concern, particularly as people waited for years on asylum seeker and temporary protection visas while applications were finalised, she said.

“Temporary protection visas have many of the same disadvantages of the asylum seeker visa, for example no commonwealth subsidy for study,” she said.

“Those whose protection claims are finalised still don’t have the same access to social entitlements as one of us as a permanent resident or citizen of Australia.”

Dickson College principal Craig Edwards said the soon-to-be graduates were bracing for their ATAR scores and had degree preferences ranging from biomedical science to building and construction management.

“One of the five students is predicted to get an ATAR score of above 90 and he will need it to get into physiotherapy, which is his top preference,” Mr Edwards said.

Executive teacher of the Secondary Introductory English College at Dickson College, Jennifer Lobb, worked with each of the five male asylum seeker student recipients from Afghanistan, Iran and West Burma.

She got teary eyed when she heard what the university had committed to.

“I’m proud the University of Canberra has stepped forward in this way,” she said.

“After all their hard work and sacrifice to put themselves on equal academic standing with local students, it was tragic to think it was out of reach.

“These kids are magic. They work so hard, as the university will see now they have this foot in the door.”

Donations to support the five students can be made by contacting Companion House at 苏州美甲美睫培训学校companionhouse.org419论坛

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