In this article, we adopt a collaborative auto-ethnographic approach to explore the experiences of one refugee university student. Our method involved all three authors systematically analysing narratives written by one of us: R Student. These accounts provide deep descriptions of his life while studying at three different United Kingdom universities and our analysis of them demonstrates that higher education was a double-edged sword for R Student. Our research illuminates how R Student’s past as a survivor of genocide and forced migration, his corrosive and supportive relationships, and neo-liberal policies and practices all intersected in complex ways to circumscribe his agency and inform his experience as a refugee student. This understanding runs counter to neo-liberal policies and practices within higher education which often blame individuals for the problems they encounter and obscure social and relational forces. In describing the operable effects of abstract policies and concepts upon R Student, our study provides a counter-narrative to neo-liberal discourse and identifies systemic issues that may affect other students, too.

DOI: 10.1093/jrs/few045
ISSN: 0951-6328