Welcoming Universities


Welcoming Universities is a network to inspire and support Australian universities to develop a culture and practice of welcome, inclusion and belonging within their institutions, in the community, and across the higher education sector.

Numerous Australian Universities are at the leading edge of research, debate and thought leadership in areas such as population, migration, social cohesion, economic participation, diversity, and inclusion.

However, as with any large and complex institution, Universities can lack the frameworks and resources to apply such knowledge and academic rigour to internal practice.

Welcoming Universities supports higher education institutions to create a sense of belonging for all their stakeholders (including staff, students, and communities of practice).

The initiative builds on the success and learnings of Welcoming Cities and enables Universities to benchmark their cultural diversity and inclusion practices across their entire operations. Welcoming Universities will become providers of choice to both domestic and international students. This model brings rigour to cultural diversity and inclusion, like existing accreditations for areas of diversity, such as gender[1].

Many Universities are required, or encouraged, by State Governments[2] to embed essential cultural diversity and inclusion principles into their core business. Welcoming Universities will assist in planning, benchmarking, and improving these principles and practices by developing and implementing the Welcoming Universities Standard.

[1] Athena Swan Charter

[2] Multicultural NSW and Multicultural Qld Charter 


University of Melbourne

Western Sydney University

La Trobe University

Victoria University

University of New South Wales

Charles Darwin University

Background and Context

Belonging asks, ‘Does everyone on campus feel valued, connected and able to be their authen1c self?’. Belonging is more complex to measure than equity, inclusion, and diversity, but it is just as important.

As one of the world’s most ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse na1ons, Australian universities should be leading the way in welcoming and including students of all backgrounds –established residents, recently arrived migrants (including international students) or refugees. The message of ‘welcome’ needs to be supported and advanced through evidence, data, partnership, knowledge sharing, and benchmarking. More than an organisational value or a glossy campaign, welcoming, inclusion, and belonging should be a framework for building social and economic participation and success. Many universities have strong policies around equity, diversity, and inclusion but still fail to retain students from underrepresented groups because these students don’t feel they belong.

Many universities are focused on equity, inclusion, and diversity and seek to foster a sense of belonging, but they don’t know if they are successful. There needs to be more benchmarking of this work within universities to identify gaps and advance effectively. 

Our lifestyle, geography, institutional reputation, and quality of teaching have been an ongoing source of attraction. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia was the third largest recipient of international tertiary students worldwide 3. This came to a sudden halt in 2020, leaving the sector reeling, and three and a half years on, it still needs to adapt to the rapid change. The higher education sector has seen a return to international student pre-pandemic numbers, and by 2025 international student numbers are predicted to surpass the pre-covid numbers by more than 180,000 students.

Around the world, more people than at any other 1me in history are being forced to flee conflict and persecution to find safety and sanctuary. A significant way for humanitarian migrants to participate, and integrate successfully into mainstream Australian society, is by participating in the Higher Education system. Humanitarian migrants face unique challenges and barriers in accessing Higher Education. They should be recognised in policy and as a unique cohort to ensure that targeted resources and interventions are provided. It is also crucial to remember that specific sub-populations of humanitarian migrants may be more disadvantaged than others due to limited English language proficiency and pre-arrival educational credentials.

Many Higher Education Institutions in the UK are participating in a network to inspire and support universities to develop a culture and practice of welcome within their institutions and in their wider communities. A growing number of these universities are now recognised as Universities of Sanctuary. This model and the Australian-based work of Welcoming Cities and Welcoming Clubs provide a solid foundation for establishing Welcoming Universities.


  • Develop and pilot the Welcoming Universities initiative with a select group of Australian Universities
  • Develop, test and socialise the Welcoming Universities Standard
  • Assess the Universities participating in the pilot project against the Standard
  • Promote the initiative to other Universities, and grow the network

Each participating University is:

  • involved in the development of the Welcoming Universities Standard and associated training, assessment and certification tools
  • formally recognised as a founding partner of the Welcoming Universities Standard and initiative
  • assessed, certified, and promoted as one of the first Welcoming Universities in Australia and globally.

Setting the Standard

Based on the learnings and success of the Welcoming Cities Standard, the Welcoming Universities Standard will be a peer-reviewed, leading practice resource that enables a higher education institution to: 

  • Increase the impact of cultural diversity and inclusion initiatives for the University and its community; 
  • develop a positive and welcoming reputation; 
  • support the development of culturally safe strategies that promote wellbeing for students and staff of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds; 
  • provide a mechanism to plan for learning, improvement and change; and, 
  • assess progress over time. 

Assessment and accreditation as a Welcoming University will be facilitated via an Accreditation Portal – a secure, user-friendly online system that provides each institution with its own dashboard and an iterative process. 

The Advisory Committee members provide subject matter expertise relevant to the development of Welcoming Universities, acting as a sounding board to provide feedback on key components of the initiative.

Thank you to our Advisory Committee members for their commitment and contribution to advancing the Welcoming Universities initiative:

For further information, or to join Welcoming Universities, please contact:

Cate Gilpin
Coordinator, Welcoming Universities


To join the Welcoming Universities pilot, a university needs to: 

  • Commit to the project’s objectives and participate for the duration of the pilot. 
  • Identify at least one key person to represent the University throughout the project and liaise with the Welcoming Australia team, supported by a stakeholder committee. 
  • Contribute $10,000 towards the project costs (this includes the option for founding members to become recognised as one the first accredited Welcoming Universities and to be represented on the national advisory committee.) 

Further Information

For further information, please contact:

Cate Gilpin
Coordinator, Welcoming Universities