Migration background and educational affordability amongst Pacific Islander migrant learners in Melbourne’s western region

Irene Kmudu Paulsen


High cost is a major barrier to the attainment of educational goals of many learners, especially those from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds. In Australia, this cohort includes Pacific Islander (PI) learners for whom low family income and ineligibility to access Government assistance for tertiary education costs may prohibit some learners from pursuing Higher Education (HE) studies. Whilst cultural barriers such as unfamiliarity with the education system, low language competence, and poor institutional support for non-traditional learners have consistently dominated the discourse on Pacific Islander learner’s low levels of achievement in education, less attention has focused on the effects of migration background, economic, and social adjustment patterns on their schooling outcomes. This article proposes that migration history, socio-economic background, and financial challenges affect PI migrant learners in two distinct ways: for those who have motivation and capability to enroll in tertiary level study, their aspirations are constrained by the high cost of tuition fees; while those learners who have the financial means and support to enroll in HE study are sometimes constrained by long-term poverty, which affects their motivations to study at the tertiary education level.


This qualitative study involved working with a small group of PI learners from Melbourne’s western region from 2012 to 2015. Information was gathered from semi-structured interviews conducted with learner participants, and their parents and teachers. Learners were interviewed three or four times, while their parents and teachers were interviewed either once or twice over a four-year period. The collected data was sorted and categorized using NVivo software, and later categorized into broad themes, which were then cross matched with individual learner case stories to refine emerging finding and themes.


The study revealed that migration background has an important influence on the social and economic settlement patterns of PI learners and their families and these in turn significantly affect learners’ schooling and post school outcomes.


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