Press Release: New report spotlights higher education barriers faced by refugees and people in asylum process  

  • ‘I found myself being looked down upon…the stereotype…they did not expect you to be above a certain standard’ 
  • Higher education ‘Community Needs Analysis’ with refugees’ documents areas for improvement – College Connect and Irish Refugee Council  

Media Release, 17 November 2021

Today, College Connect and the Irish Refugee Council are launching a new research report which reveals barriers faced by refugees and people in the asylum process in accessing further and higher education and puts forward a series of recommendations. 

The research, which stems from a community needs analysis with over 100 people with experience of the international protection process, documents their stories of accessing further education or continuing it, against the odds. 

Dr Sarah Meaney Sartori, Research Manager with College Connect said: “Using a peer-to-peer participatory research approach, this analysis captures participants’ lived experience by putting their voice front and centre, and by directly involving people with this lived experience in the research process itself.”

“This research reveals a huge amount of frustration and challenges experienced by this community when trying to access higher education. Government policies, coupled with limited finances actively serve to reduce the possibilities for refugees and people in the protection process to participate in higher education. This has serious implications for social integration and access to the labour market, as well as mental health repercussions and feelings of belonging.” 

With participant voices to the forefront, key themes emerged from the analysis, including financial barriers due to status or residency, with insurmountable fees being cited as a major access issue; recognition of prior learning or qualifications; a lack of accurate and targeted information about education opportunities, while many articulated the system of Direct Provision itself as being a barrier to education - both physically and mentally. 

With a majority of research participants expressing how central they view the role of education in rebuilding their lives several also spoke of how the protection process, and the system of Direct Provision in particular, affects their skill set, sense of self-worth, and identity. 

Many people cited the stigma they feel as a ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’ and the stereotyping of people seeking refuge as another deterrent or barrier, both of which can follow a person into the lecture hall. As one focus group participant stated: “I found myself being looked down upon…the stereotype…it looked like everybody was being painted with the same brush and they did not expect you to be above a certain standard”. 

By incorporating creative methods from the outset, the research team also developed a series of public engagement activities, including the ‘Deconstructed’ video featuring Spoken Word artist Felispeaks, cultural training resources for use in educational settings, and the We are here, HEAR photovoice exhibition. 

Charlotte Byrne, Education Officer with the Irish Refugee Council said: “The research clearly documents the multitude of factors that can impact a person’s ability to access and succeed in further and higher education, with issues ranging from experiences of food insecurity and feelings of isolation on campus, to deferring or losing college places due to limited finances or simply living too far away from college.” 

“The recommendations resulting from the research clearly show how small changes in government thinking and policies and HEI practices can make a big difference in people’s education journey. For example, the decision taken this year that will see people living in Direct Provision no longer having to pay international fees for two-year Level 5 and Level 6 PLC courses is welcome and will hopefully see the frustration regarding international fees abate. Nonetheless, it is important not to discount those who partook in this study and have been directly impacted by historical policies.” 

“While much has been achieved these past few years, there’s still more to do to remove barriers.”

Dr Meaney Sartori concluded: “The research also suggests that there is much to be done within Higher Education Institutes, including tailored supports for refugees and people in the asylum process within colleges by way of a dedicated liaison officer and awareness raising among faculty members about the particular challenges this community face. It is also clear from the analysis that we must continuously strive for and embed best practice in terms of interrogating privilege and institutional racism in all of our public bodies and Higher Education Institutes.” 

This Community Needs Analysis (CNA) was carried out by College Connect, a Higher Education Authority initiative to widen access to higher education spanning DCU, Dundalk IT, Maynooth University and TUS – Athlone Campus, in partnership with the Irish Refugee Council. 




Caroline Reid | 087 234 1906


  • Download the Media Brief: Media Access_Refugee CNA Launch
  • Spokespeople are available for interview
  • Audio-visual resources can be used for broadcast purposes upon request, including the 'Deconstructed' video. A poem transcript is also available in the Media Brief for reproduction in print publications.
  • College Connect and the Irish Refugee Council are officially launching their new Community Needs Analysis at a Research Launch Seminar today, Wednesday 17, from 3pm. People can still register for this event via or by visiting 
  • Key recommendations outlined by research participants (More detailed summary is available in the Media Briefing pack above):

“If you could change one thing to improve access to education for refugees and people in the protection process, what would it be?”

    • Provide clear and consistent information regarding access to higher education with suggestions for a liaison officer in Higher Education Institutes dedicated to providing tailored information to refugees and international protection applicants.
    • Transfers to/from Direct Provision Centres on academic ground or provisions for transport if a transfer is not possible.
    • Provisions for access to food or alternative food arrangements in Direct Provision centres for students who are commuting
    • Remove the requirement of international fees
    • Do away with the three-year residency rule
    • Recognition of Prior Learning: At a minimum, it is recommended that in the absence of formal recognition of prior learning, that people should be eligible for undergraduate grants to bridge this issue.
    • Provide ongoing Cultural Awareness & Anti-Racism Training in HEIs to better prepare staff in universities to deal respectfully and mindfully with refugees and international protection applicants.
  • It sets out the findings from 40 in-depth interviews and 104 survey responses collected between October 2020 and March 2021 with refugees and people in the protection process in Ireland focusing on their experience of accessing or trying to access higher education. 
  • A total of 10 peer-researchers were recruited to carry out this research process, all of whom were at some stage in the international protection process in Ireland. The peer-researchers carried out a total of 14 focus group sessions with 39 participants, and a total of 104 survey participants responded to a 15-question survey.  
  • We are here, HEAR Exhibition:  Bringing together the voices and experiences of people seeking refuge in Ireland the We are here, HEAR exhibit, through a collection of photographs and stories, documents some of the barriers faced by refugees and people in the protection process aspiring to further their education.  The exhibition stems from the Community Needs Analysis and is about raising awareness about the presence of refugees in Ireland by bringing their voices into public spaces and forums for discussion and engagement. The We are here, HEAR project is funded by the Public Service Innovation Fund and was created by Dr Sarah Meaney Sartori with the We are here, HEAR Project Team. It was then developed by the Maynooth University Access Programme and College Connect in collaboration with Dublin City University, the Irish Refugee Council and Dublin Castle -  
  • ‘Deconstructed’ video: Deconstructed is a 3.5-minute artistic and research video about refugees’ experience in the protection process and in particular, the Direct Provision system. Featuring spoken word artist Felispeaks, and dancer Mufutau Yusuf, this video gives an insight of how in the ‘protection system’ in Ireland, one’s skillset, self-worth, and sense of identity are deconstructed - 
  • Cultural Training Resources: Using participative, dialogic, arts-based, and collaborative approaches, the training materials developed from the Community Needs Analysis aim to foster understanding about the plight of refugees and people seeking asylum, to question our inbuilt biases, and to develop solidarity towards refugees and people seeking asylum in Ireland. The accompanying guides for each video support facilitators to deliver an interactive one-hour cultural awareness session (online or in-person), based on community education principals -