December 2022

In this edition, learn more about three new community-initiated research projects! We share news from several recently completed projects, where you can hear from the project teams about a pioneer study into refugee settlement through the lens of Australia’s major settlement cities, an employability forum held recently to address barriers to employability for highly skilled migrant and refugee professionals in Sydney’s West, and the impacts of COVID-19 for those accessing social services. You will also learn more about the 2023 round of applications to the SESU. 

Learn more about the SESU

Introducing the successful projects from our 2022 application round

This year, following a competitive application process, ACU’s Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit (SESU) has funded three community-initiated research projects from across Australia. The projects will support partnering organisations in their work to improve outcomes for young mothers with complex needs, refugees and young people at risk.

Since commencing in 2020, we have connected experts and academics with organisations who support communities experiencing marginalisation or disadvantage. A total of 17 projects, one of which produced a report into the impact of the pandemic on social service providers in Victoria, have been funded.

SESU Advisory Group chair Br David Hall fms said the three projects will focus on improving the care and support provided by four not-for-profit organisations.

"As a Catholic university striving to support and advocate for people experiencing marginalisation, the SESU Advisory Group is pleased to announce CatholicCare Sydney, CatholicCare Victoria and St John of God Health Care, and Edmund Rice Education Australia as the successful recipients of the 2022 SESU funding," Br Hall said. 

"At a time of global financial unrest and uncertainty, we are conscious that research projects with a commitment to those experiencing the most vulnerability should be prioritised," Br Hall said.

We wish to congratulate the successful organisations and are looking forward to delivering these projects with our new partners. We would also like to thank all organisations that applied in this round–our Advisory Group were very impressed with the high quality of the submissions we received this year.

HOPE Program evaluation

CatholicCare Sydney is seeking an external evaluation to determine if the HOPE Program is well-placed to deliver important outcomes with young mothers (pregnant or with small children) at risk of homelessness, mental ill-health or domestic violence. The evaluation will seek to align the program with the outcomes prioritised by Government, while seeking to understand from the mothers themselves what difference the program has made for them. 
The project will be led by:

  • Ms Jacqui Stewart, Program Manager, Institute of Child Protection Studies, ACU
  • Ms Alex Cahill, Research Officer, Institute of Child Protection Studies, ACU
  • Ms Melissa McSeveny, Evidence, Impact & Research Manager, Families Division, CatholicCare Sydney
  • Ms Emma Neill, Practice Manager, Families Division, CatholicCare Sydney

Asylum Seeker Support Program: The value of Catholic agencies working together to deliver a transitional housing and support program for asylum seekers in Victoria

Together with CatholicCare Victoria and St John of God Health Care, we will evaluate the Asylum Seeker Support Program which provides transitional accommodation and other support to families and individuals seeking asylum in Melbourne, Victoria. The evaluation will help inform future program growth, sustainable partnerships between Catholic health, social service agencies and local parishes, and we believe will become an important advocacy tool for social services campaigning for fairer social and economic policies for people who are seeking asylum.

The project will be led by: 

  • Dr Haydn Aarons, Senior Lecturer, School of Arts, ACU
  • Mr Denis Byrne, Group Manager, Mission Integration (East), St John of God Health Care
  • Mr Chris McNamara, General Manager, Community Participation, CatholicCare Victoria

The religious identity of Flexi Schools

Edmund Rice Education Australia’s project will identify the implicit elements of the identity of Flexi Schools that make them uniquely Catholic. Flexi Schools provide education to young people disengaged with formal schooling and, to ensure inclusivity, do not have the traditional identifying markers of a Catholic school. The project will make a unique contribution to the international dialogue on the topic of the identity of Catholic schools. 

The project will be led by: 

  • Associate Professor Robyn Horner, School of Theology, ACU
  • Dr Teresa Brown, Lecturer, School of Theology, ACU
  • Dr Adam Taylor, National Director School Engagement, Edmund Rice Education Australia


Settlement lessons from Australia’s cities with the most refugees: Our latest report is out!

The SESU partnered with the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education on ‘Settlement Cities’; a first of its kind study into refugee settlement through the lens of Australia’s major settlement cities, where most refugees begin the process of building a new life in this country. 

This project examined refugee settlement in the local government areas of Hume, Casey and Greater Dandenong in Melbourne, Fairfield and Liverpool in Sydney’s South West, Salisbury in Northern Adelaide, and Logan City in Brisbane. The study had more than 150 participants. 

ACU’s Dr Mary Tomsic, from the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, joined the cross-institutional research team. Dr Tomsic explained that the study was based on in-depth conversations with recently arrived refugees, refugee community leaders and local service providers, to identify the aspirations and challenges of settlement, how refugees feel about the places they now call home, where they find inclusion and belonging, and how well they are able to access essential services. 

"Focusing on experiences of refugees, community leaders as well as service providers, in specific LGAs has been most valuable to better understand how people are making home in resettlement and the range of formal and informal ways people support each other, but also places where adequate support is lacking." 

"All participants I spoke with really valued living in multicultural communities in Australia. Many community leaders sought to create opportunities to volunteer and support community development in their local areas and across communities, as did some individuals as well. This work is not always valued by state and federal governments, but contributes significantly to refugee settlement in Australia", Dr Tomsic said.

We learned from the research that: 

  • Refugees’ major aspirations were landing a secure job that matches their skills and securing stable housing, which for many meant owning a home. These two aspirations were challenged in the settlement cities, which had higher unemployment than the national average and high cost of housing compared with residents’ incomes. 
  • Making a home in the settlement city was made easier by the presence of vibrant and familiar ethnic and linguistic communities. Feeling a sense of belonging and inclusion was critical for them to feel at home. Refugees desired broader social inclusion but found this to be hindered by language and cultural barriers as well as intolerance in society.
  • Creating community was facilitated by ethno-specific community associations, which have played a role in sustaining community ties and welcoming newcomers. However, community associations and community leaders have been little resourced and valued. 
  • Accessing formal support was not always easy for refuges due to physical, digital and cultural barriers. 

Dr Altin Gavranovic, Senior Researcher at the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education and the lead researcher on the project, explained the study’s importance. 

"This report makes a major contribution to our understanding of what is actually happening on the ground in the most common areas of refugee settlement, and gives a significant voice to refugees and those working to support them as they begin their lives in Australia. It makes an invaluable contribution to efforts to better support refugees settling in Australia, particularly by highlighting the importance of ethno-specific community associations in helping refugees settle better."

"This kind of practical, applied, broad-ranging research is very rare in the sector and it would not have been possible without the involvement of ACU and the SESU", Dr Gavranovic said.

Going forward the report will be used to advocate for best-practice strategies to support refugees to feel appropriately settled in their new home, especially with regard to the following findings:

  • That settlement cities do help refugees settle well and lessons from the settlement cities model could be used for developing strategies for other LGAs where refugee settlement is growing (Finding 1)
  • Financial and material support for community associations should be expanded and meaningful participation from refugees should be ensured, given the critical role of community networks in facilitating settlement. (Finding 2)
  • Mainstream services are not consistently accessible and should work with providers in the settlement services sector to identify barriers and improve practices (Finding 3)
  • The timeframe of settlement support should be made more flexible to help address long-term issues (Finding 4).

'Settlement Cities: A Place-based Study of Australia’s Major Refugee Settlement Destinations’ is now available to download.


Employability forum held in partnership with SydWest: Improving employability prospects for highly skilled and highly experienced migrants and refugees in Sydney’s West

Blacktown is a ‘Welcome Zone’ for refugees and migrants and is home to 188 different nationalities. Blacktown, as much as the nation, is in need of a highly skilled workforce to meet the challenges of a rapidly growing community and an advanced and ever-changing economy. Employment is undoubtedly a key part of the settlement journey, and while refugees and migrants bring a wide range of skills and experiences with them, finding suitable employment by matching their skills and experience to the needs of their new environment is often a challenging experience. 

Supporting refugees to settle well requires cross-sector commitment. On Friday 4 November in Blacktown, SydWest Multicultural Services and ACU hosted an employability forum to address the challenges highly skilled and highly experienced refugees and migrants face in obtaining suitable employment. Refugee speakers shared their journeys in seeking employment and round table discussions provided an opportunity for industry, government, and agency representatives in the Blacktown LGA to identify collaborative solutions to this important issue. 

The forum also launched the SESU’s new report: ‘Migrating from Settlement to Prosperity: An evaluation of SydWest Employability Programs and Services in Blacktown and Mount Druitt, NSW,’ following research conducted by ACU in partnership with SydWest Multicultural Services. 

Dr Haydn Aarons, Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Arts at ACU said that the evaluation of SydWest Multicultural Services’ Employability initiatives for refugees and migrants in Blacktown led to some really interesting findings for the broader community more generally. 

"There is a long-standing pattern of economic exclusion and underemployment of what the study has identified as high skilled, high credentialled, and well experienced professionals. For example, we engaged with former engineers, dentists, scientists, and medical professionals who have had protracted struggles to have qualifications and experiences recognised, and very few opportunities to resume careers in Australia."

"Agencies find it very difficult to assist these refugees and migrants leaving these people with few professional opportunities. It’s despairing for the people themselves, and to-date this problem has not yet received the dedicated focus it deserves in Western Sydney. There’s been a series of missed opportunities to address the increasing skill gaps in the labour force," Dr Aarons said. 

The forum led to the development of a new cross-sector employability network dedicated to better meeting the employability needs of highly skilled migrant and refugee professionals working in Blacktown and beyond. 

'Migrating from Settlement to Prosperity' is available on the SESU website.


Awakening politicians to the true impact of the Victorian COVID-19 lockdowns and the pandemic itself

The SESU’s report, ‘Scarring Effects of the Pandemic Economy’, found that that the COVID-19 crisis is not just a pandemic in public health terms—it has also been a pandemic of job loss and job market insecurity in Victoria. The government’s reporting of economy recovery following the lockdowns fails to recognise falls in employment and labour force participation, as well as untold suffering generated by the Federal Government’s exclusion of temporary migrants from basic social protection. As was widely reported in the media, COVID has also increased demand for emergency relief and family violence services.

The report is an important advocacy tool that calls for government to deliver a much higher rise in the JobSeeker payment, for new investment in public housing, and for renewed support for social service providers struggling with the decline of volunteers due to COVID-19.

Every politician in Victoria received a copy of our study, and the project partners—ACU, Catholic Social Services Victoria and St Mary’s House of Welcome—are continuing to meet with Victorian politicians to remind them to not overlook those on the margins of society who were the most affected by the pandemic.

The report also galvanised (and included an invitation for Catholic Social Services Victoria to be a part of) a revitalised Employment Policy Advocacy Group by the Victorian Council of Social Services—a group of key social service agencies that will continue to advocate for fairer policies in the wake of the pandemic.


Have a great idea for a research project? The next round of applications to the SESU will open early next year

The SESU will call for expressions of interest (EOIs) from community organisations again in our 2023 round, due to open in early 2023. 

If you work with communities experiencing disadvantage we’d love to hear about the research that matters to you. 

You’ll be notified when the call for EOIs opens, but until then read on for information about our application process. 

Organisations may put forward applications for one or both types of project:

  • Organisation-specific project: a project that aims to inform, evaluate or enhance one of your programs or services; or 
  • Sector project: a project that aims to address a broad or systemic issue that multiple organisations face in the community sector.

The SESU is designed to support projects that can be completed within a period of 12-18 months from their start date. However, if you have a larger project in mind, we recommend you consider segmenting the project into smaller phases and submitting an EOI that focuses on the first phase of the project.

If you are considering submitting an EOI, we encourage you to begin by reading our online FAQs. Here you will find application guidelines—including how EOIs will be assessed—information that will help you determine whether your project is a good fit for the SESU, and tips on submitting a competitive EOI. You will also find information on the kinds of contributions your organisation will be expected to make to the project, which you will be asked about in the EOI form.


Check out some of the media coverage around the SESU’s research


How else can ACU Engagement support you?

Do you need support in areas other than research? 

ACU Engagement partners with community to achieve positive social outcomes. Do you have clients who may not have had or completed a formal education? Or do you have volunteer opportunities or programs you need support with?  Read on to engage with some of ACU’s flagship community engagement programs.


‘Then fortune smiled on me greatly’: Stories of hope and transformation from the Clemente program

Then fortune smiled on me greatly:
into this thing called Clemente I fell,
where at first I stumbled and staggered,
but there is much more I will tell.
- Zacchary, Clemente Graduate

Recently ACU’s Clemente program announced the publication of Voices of Clemente: The transformative power of a Liberal Arts education. 

The Clemente program is designed to deliver an immersive Liberal Arts education to those who, due to disadvantage or social exclusion, may not have had the opportunity for formal education. This book follows the lives of eleven Clemente students as they reflect on their experiences and the impact the course has had on them. Written in a series of vignettes taken from extensive interviews, the book invites the reader to join students on their journeys, bear witness to their challenges, and be inspired by their successes.

"These stories are a testament to the power both education and community can have in positively influencing people’s lives."
Professor Zlatko Skrbis Vice-Chancellor and President, Australian Catholic University.

Contact the Clemente team if you would like a copy of the book Voices of Clemente.


 Canberra Clemente students -excursion to the National Portrait Gallery 2022

Become involved in the Clemente program and support learners who are pursuing a liberal arts education in the face of adversity



A key to the success of the Clemente program is the involvement of volunteers who help students with their learning. These volunteers are known as learning partners. Both the students and the volunteers learn from their experiences and interactions with one another. Clemente learning partners come from a variety of backgrounds—education, community and business. Some are retired while others are part of workplace volunteering programs. Clemente classrooms also welcome ACU students to become mentors. Learning partners bring with them diverse, rich life and career experiences and skills.

Become a learning partner



Clemente Australia is built on partnerships. "ACU invites community, government and business organisations to offer sustainable, long-term support for Clemente through contributions of time, talent, influence, resources and funds." 

Partner with us


Student recruitment:

Clemente encourages students who have had diverse life experiences to apply. We welcome students who had interruptions to traditional learning paths as well as refugees and migrants, those who are differently abled and people experiencing homelessness. If you would like to refer a student or to discuss student recruitment please contact the Clemente Program Advisor in your state.

If you are interested in learning more about the Clemente Program at ACU either as a Partner, a Volunteer, a Learning Partner or as a student, please contact the Clemente team.

"It transformed my life, and it gave me a reason to get up in the morning and have a shower and have intellectual stimulation and, you know, proper conversations with people instead of just sitting at home doing nothing” Risa Rosello -Clemente Alumni Student

 ACU Clemente Partners:

Federation University, CatholicCare Ballarat, The City of Ballarat, The Ballarat Foundation, CatholicCare Western Sydney, St Vincent de Paul Society, Sisters of Mercy, Micah Projects, St Vincent de Paul Goulburn/Canberra, CatholicCare Victoria, Yarra City Council, Holy Family Catholic Parish Emerton, Mission Australia, Surry Hills Sydney 


Our students help build capacity within community organisations through their community engagement placements

An ACU undergraduate education is made unique through the community engagement placement program, providing students with the opportunity to make a direct impact in the wider community.  At ACU, it is important to us that we develop reciprocal relationships with communities and community service organisations, so together we can work to provide better outcomes for people facing disadvantage or marginalisation. You have the opportunity to invite our students to join your organisation on their community engagement placement. Our students come from a range of courses including allied health, social work, arts and humanities and business to name a few. 

Hear from some of our community engagement students and partners in this video:

Explore your placement ideas with us by contacting the ACU Engagement team.


Our staff give time and expertise to community organisations through our community engagement time release policy

ACU is committed to providing our staff the opportunity to contribute to their local communities, especially in ways that benefit people experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation. We provide staff the option to dedicate five of their workdays in support of non-profit and community service organisations. 

To discuss the support you need, please contact the ACU Engagement team.


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