This paper aims to explore how refugee students construct pathways of access to higher education by drawing on interviews with 15 Syrian university students studying at different universities across Turkey. The research is located within a capabilities-based human development paradigm from which it outlines the factors that enable students’ transition into university and looks at how they navigate complex higher education spaces. The refugees’ narratives show that access to university is intersectionally shaped by personal ambition, family encouragement, community support, and the social and education policy. On the other hand, their educational experiences highlight that higher education works as a site of justice where the everyday racism, xenophobia, and discrimination is alleviated to a significant degree through providing a peaceful and safe space for coexistence with others despite its financial and pedagogical constraints. The paper draws attention to the agency of students in mobilising the assets they have gained for the good and well-being of their communities and fleshes out the values universities should promote for refugee students who have accessed university against the odds.

DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2019.1707309
ISSN: 1360-3116