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The Role of Information in the Settlement Experiences of Refugee Students (2016)

Posted on:
August 20, 2021

What is this research about?

This research explores the access to and use of information by refugee students during their settlement process in Canada. Researchers conducted a pilot study to explore refugee students’ access to and use of information during the settlement process. Their goal was to help the Student Refugee Program (SRP) at University of British Columbia to advocate for and meet the information needs of refugee students by understanding what information is needed, when it is needed, and how to provide optimal access to it. Their findings begin to identify the scope and variety of information sources that students consult at various stages of settlement and their utility.

What do you need to know?

Refugee students face unique challenges in accessing and using information during the settlement process compared to other immigrant groups. Current models of immigrant settlement describe information needs and sources at different stages, but have not been evaluated for refugee students specifically. It's unclear if current information provided to refugee students is delivered in optimal formats and timing to meet their needs.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers worked with one refugee student to understand their information world, the sources they used, and the strategies they employed to meet their information needs. They conducted a pilot study using arts-based elicitation (Information World Mapping) and semi-structured interviews with the student. Researchers asked the student to visually map their "information world" - the people, places and things that help them find and use information.

What did the researchers find?

Refugee students often lack accessible information about the city, university, and academic policies before arrival. Everyday life information needs, such as finding jobs and managing daily expenses, are challenging to meet due to a lack of clear information sources. The preference for face-to-face interactions for obtaining information is prevalent among refugee students in the literature. Technology use varies, with some students facing difficulties in using required academic software. Financial struggles and the need to work while studying significantly impact students' academic performance and social integration. Social connections and ongoing support are crucial for the successful settlement of refugee students.


"This exploratory pilot study is the beginning of a project to address these questions, with the goal of evaluating, designing and reconfiguring information sources and how they are delivered to  facilitate essential information practices that aid the settlement process. We used a novel arts-based elicitation technique, Information World Mapping (IWM), and semi-structured interview to  appreciate a refugee student’s information world and the role of information within it."

The authors assessed information access and use during three phases of settlement:

  1. Pre-migration stage or transitioning phase - Individuals gather information from many sources online and offline during pre-migration. There was an indication that our participant was not
    equipped with accessible information about the city, university, and academic program policies prior to arrival.
  2. Immediate stage or settling in phase - This is followed by an immediate stage where basic language training, shelter and orientation needs are addressed. In addition to receiving orientation information, refugee students are also immersed in their course work right away, adding to their information load.
  3. Intermediate and integrative stages or settled phase - Next, newcomers enter an intermediate stage where they utilize local government and institutional resources for long-term basic needs. The final integrative stage sees newcomers comfortably making their own way. Juggling work and academic studies caused physical stress (e.g., lack of sleep) and mental anguish; our participant explained that money was a major concern that affected the capacity to study. The student’s schedule left little time for coursework, affected the ability to seek support from  university services, participate in extracurricular activities, or form and maintain a social network.

How can you use this research?

If you work in higher education or refugee support services, this research can guide you to enhance the accessibility and timing of information provided to refugee students. Other points:

  • Advocacy and Support: Use the findings to advocate for better information support systems for refugee students, ensuring that their information needs are met at each stage of settlement.
  • Program Development: Develop and refine programs and services that provide timely and accessible information to refugee students, reducing information overload and addressing specific needs.
  • Social Integration: Foster social connections and peer support networks to help refugee students feel more integrated and supported in their new environment.
  • Technological Training: Provide training and resources to improve refugee students' technological literacy, helping them to better navigate academic and everyday life tasks.
  • Policy Making: Inform policy decisions related to refugee student support, ensuring that information delivery methods and timing are optimized to meet their needs effectively.



This exploratory pilot study is the beginning of a project to evaluate, designe and reconfigure information sources and how they are delivered to  facilitate essential information practices that aid the settlement process.