Counter to recent rhetoric about Australia being “swamped” by non-English speaking migrants “who refuse to assimilate”, new research shows young people from African and Arabic migrant families are more likely to go to university than non-migrants.
The analysis by Andrew Norton of the Grattan Institute looks at rates of university participation among 18-20 year olds, grouped by the language they speak at home.
Compared to Australians who speak English at home, the rate of university participation is significantly higher for nearly all groups who speak another language.
Among those who speak ‘Eastern Asian’ or ‘Southern Asian’ languages at home, (such as migrants from India and China), almost 80 per cent were at university. This doesn’t include international students.
About 33 per cent of those who spoke English at home were at uni.
Separate research also shows children from immigrant families are likely to be better at English than their classmates by early high school.
This includes Sudanese immigrants
Speaking a language other than English at home is widely considered a good indicator that person is a first or second-generation migrant.
The research showed young people from migrant groups that have been publicly criticised for not assimilatingwere more likely to be at university than non-migrants.
Among those who spoke Arabic at home, or an African language, the rate or university participation was 47 per cent.
Andrew Norton told Hack the data does not distinguish between those who came to Australia through the immigration or refugee intakes.
But when he zoomed in on people of Sudanese ancestry, many of whom would have come to Australia as refugees, he found the rate of university participation was in the “high 30s”, meaning it was higher than the rate for non-migrants.
‘Migrants may just be trying harder’
After every census, Andrew crunches the university participation data. By coincidence, his research was completed last month, at a time when various politicians and commentators were attacking African migrants for failing to assimilate.
The criticism initially focused on Sudanese refugees, but quickly zoomed out to broader anxieties about migration generally. In July, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia will consider adding a “values test” for migrants seeking permanent residency, in order to address “challenges to social cohesion”.
One measure of social cohesion could be university participation.
Andrew told Hack: “One of the reasons for the higher rates is our migration program is biased towards skills and so the people who arrive tend to be more educated, and they pass on these views about education to their children.”
“Whereas those speaking English may have been in Australia a couple of centuries and therefore there is a much broader range.”
But he said there were also high rates of uni among population groups that had a high proportion of refugees (where there is not a skills bias).
He said this suggested migrants were also just trying harder – either to advance themselves and their families, or to integrate into society.
Children of migrant families also doing better at school
A separate but related piece of research, also from Grattan, shows children of migrant families are also doing better at school than non-migrant children.
Children who speak another language at home generally overtake native English speakers at English reading and writing skills in early high school.
In numeracy subjects, they tend to outpace non-immigrant children in primary school, and extend this lead through high school.
Julie Sonnemann, School Education Fellow at Grattan, also suggested the skilled migrant program could be the reason.
“Australia is one of the only countries in the world where immigrant students outperform the non-immigrant students,” she told Hack.
“Our skilled migrant visa program is quite unusual compared to other countries.”
Children could also be learning faster through out-of-school tutoring or because knowing another language is good for the brain, she said.