Australian high school pupils with a refugee background can now secure a place at the University of Newcastle to study law prior to receiving their final academic results, as part of an Australia-first initiative aimed at dismantling significant gaps in higher education access.
The Refugee Early Entry Scheme accepts students with refugee status or varies humanitarian visas into the university’s five-year Bachelor of Law with Honours degree.
Acceptance is based on the individual as a whole — as opposed to purely academic — and will take into account career goals, letters of recommendation and challenges that may have impacted previous academic performance.
Newcastle Law School Associate Professor Amy Maguire said the benefits of the scheme are innumerable.
Notably, individuals from refugee backgrounds offer unique insight and bring considerable scope to legal study and practise — which can be particularly beneficial when representing a client with a similar resettlement history.
"There are many people in our communities from refugee and migrant backgrounds who will benefit from legal representation by people who share lived experiences and cultural knowledge,” Maguire said in a media release.
The initiative also accelerates the desire for equity in higher education.
Across higher education, there are entrenched practises and expectations that reflect and perpetuate inequality.
According to Maguire, concerted action must be taken to remove barriers and ensure vulnerable populations receive quality learning opportunities and an equitable chance for success.
"Widening participation is a core value at the University of Newcastle, and we want to support motivated and talented students, regardless of their background or circumstances, who might not otherwise have gained access to our programs,” Maguire added. “Our whole Law School is enriched by the increasing diversity of our student body, so our early entry schemes really increase success for all.”
In 2019, around 3,500 students from refugee backgrounds were enrolled in Australian higher education.
1/ Australian first: students with refugee background granted early access into law https://t.co/anYNOndwnQ via @newcastleherald So excited about our new scheme to facilitate early entry to Law for students from refugee backgrounds @uonlawschool— Amy Maguire (@DrAmyMaguire) August 31, 2020
The Refugee Early Entry Scheme is the latest in the university’s list of actions to overcome injustice.
The Newcastle Legal Centre, the university’s integrated community legal practise, has long offered pro bono legal advice to asylum seekers, refugees and disadvantaged migrants who may otherwise have had to represent themselves in a foreign legal system in a second language.
The initiative also comes three years after the introduction of the Indigenous Early Entry Scheme.
The scheme has so far admitted 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into the law program, with Indigenous pupils now making up 5% of the undergraduate law cohort.