Inclusive access to higher education: to whom, to what and for what purpose?

Tuesday 28 June 2022

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Higher education must play its part in facing up to Europe’s social and democratic challenges. This means ensuring that higher education is inclusive, open to talent from all backgrounds, and that higher education institutions are not ivory towers, but civic-minded learning communities connected to their communities.

A renewed EU agenda for higher education

European Commission, 2017

Building inclusive and connected higher education systems is one of the four priorities for action of the renewed EU agenda for higher education. This requires also the right conditions for students of different backgrounds to succeed: the profile of the population of students entering and completing higher education should reflect wider society. These profiles might change according to the different national contexts and peculiarities and this brings also a difference in the kind of challenges they are facing both at academic and social level. The exchange on these different challenges and profiles of underrepresented students in the partner countries is the starting point of the STATUS project. Through this phase, it would be possible to identify common patterns and support measures that could enhance the participation of all students to higher education.

A first exchange on the different national contexts and groups of underrepresented students took place during the kick-off meeting in Vršac, Serbia, where we shared information on the student body, the challenges faced by underrepresented students and the main inclusion policies put in place at national and organisational levels to overcome those.

To promote successful completion of the studies, higher education providers should take a holistic look at how teaching and assessment are organised, put measures in place to mentor students and provide academic and non-academic support. For this reason, we are looking for good practices in higher education that address inclusion issues and which elements should be taken into consideration for developing a training programme for academic and not-academic staff to favour the access to higher education for underrepresented students.

An overview of the inclusion policies in higher education in the partner countries and a collection of practices aimed at fostering inclusion of underrepresented students in the EU will be part of the E-repository of good practices related to socially inclusive learning culture and early warning systemsthe first result of the STATUS project. This will the first step of the project towards the development of guidelines and training material for higher education institutes and their staff.

At the same time, breaking down barriers between higher education and the rest of society can help students develop their social and civic competences. A sustainable and long-standing collaboration between higher education and civil society organisations is a way to support the achievement of this objective. These two actors are often collaborating in the realisation of activities and initiatives aimed at fostering the inclusion of underrepresented and vulnerable students in education. To progress in terms of inclusiveness and diversity in higher education, it is necessary to do things differently and to provide higher education institutions with support models fostering the inclusion of underrepresented students in the different phases – from enrolment graduation.

To this aim, we will investigate the strengths and weaknesses behind these collaborations with the ultimate goal of developing a civil society-higher education cooperation toolkit that will serve as guidelines for creating new and renovate existing collaboration between these two actors.

Throughout the project, we will work to better define the answers to the questions in the title. Stay tuned to discover our project’s activities and results.

About the project

STATUS – Steering Transition and Advancement of Tertiary Underrepresented Students aims at developing supportive educational environments enhancing the participation of underrepresented students in the tertiary education.


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