Key Learnings: Six Ways of Tackling Inequality in Higher Education

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1 Alpbach Higher Education Symposium, August 26 to 27, 2015 Key Learnings: Six Ways of Tackling Inequality in Higher Education The dancer Eva Müller opened the Alpbach Higher Education Symposium with a performance on InEquality. 1. Strengthening the ties between schools and universities. Creating new pathways to higher education 2. Constant dialogue and participatory processes between stakeholders 3. Reducing barriers to higher education 4. Universal Tertiary Education 5. Increasing professors mobility 6. Changes within university management - 1 -

2 What happened in Alpbach 2015? At every university there are people making the effort to break down entry barriers to studying and to remove stumbling blocks for young people who are the first in their family to enter higher education (so called 1st generation students), for working students or for young parents. This summary aims to give a short and comprehensive overview of the best and most radical ideas produced during the symposium and may serve as a point of reference for domains considered most important by participants. During the Higher Education Symposium at the European Forum Alpbach 28 practitioners from across Europe presented examples of how to improve equal opportunities in higher education (access and success) for the diversity of youth as well as aiming at a more inclusive higher education for all students. Participants had the chance to interact with change makers who have initiated a broad variety of projects that tackle the question of (early) orientation, preparation, access and success in higher education. In three sessions they could hear inspiring personal stories and discuss important questions in the higher education sector. In the second part of the event participants and change makers alike were encouraged to reflect on their symposium experience and together formulate five creative, concrete and big ideas which can tackle Inequality in higher education. 28 small groups brainstormed five ideas and selected the best one to be presented in a final plenary session. An expert panel consisting of Michael Gaebel (Director, Higher Education Policy Unit, European University Association, Brussels), Fernanod M. Galan Palomares (Chairperson, ESU - European Student's Union, Brussels) and Harald Mahrer (State Secretary, Austrian Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, Vienna) gave brief comments on the incoming ideas after which the participants could cast a vote for their three most favourite ideas. According to this vote, six of the most important clusters are elaborated below. It has to be said that these clusters can be seen as separate stand-alone ideas that will add to improve the current gaps in access, participation and success, but should also be seen as elements that are part of a holistic approach. Improving equal opportunities in very diverse societies Europe is facing nowadays and will be facing even more in the near future can only be successful and sustainable, if in fact many of the ideas are being implemented. The ideas presented aim at interventions to improve education systems in general, to improve institutional structures, to improve practices on the level of the learning environment and on the level of the curriculum with the aim to create a sense of belonging. 1. Strengthening the ties between schools and universities. Creating new pathways to higher education Many participants stressed the need to link universities more closely with the rest of the educational system, especially primary and secondary schools. Apart from attracting the largest cluster of ideas, it also gained the most votes. This outcome clearly underscores the urgency with which universities should start fostering contact between schools, (young) children and themselves, according to the participants. The following ideas were elaborated: Engage students and children in experiential learning. Programmes where universities reach out to primary and secondary schools could have a significant impact on children. Students and university staff can encourage curiosity and love of learning in children from an early age on by introducing them to interesting fields such as engineering, chemistry and biology in local projects. Children will be able to make better career and study choices. There are great examples of these programmes in Austria for instance KinderUni Wien

3 Members of the academic community are the best ambassadors of their sector. Information about higher education and grant opportunities can be spread in diverse communities with many 1 st generation youth by targeting children and especially their parents. Students could volunteer as university student ambassadors to reach out to them. Students who represent the youth culturally and socio-economically will be seen as role models by the targeted youth. Key goals of these ideas are to reduce fear of contact with the academic world, to raise interest into higher education and to give schools platforms for career counselling by university student ambassadors. Most important goal is to communicate that universities have high expectations of all youth, despite the background and to make young people aware to have high expectations of themselves. Students coaching pupils. These ideas centred on building personal relationships between students and pupils through mentoring and coaching programmes initiated between universities and surrounding schools. These may enable a smooth transition from a high school environment to higher education. Within these programmes students get the chance to practise didactic skills while high school children can receive (educational) career orientation, preparation and tutoring to increase academic skills in their last phase of high school education. What is important in this stage is taking different worlds the pupils come from into account. Programmes should ideally also focus on identity and aspiration development. Giving students space to initiate and develop their own projects. An obligatory internship or community project within the curriculum of every faculty at every university would offer an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and skills outside of a higher education setting. Within the space of this course students, could join established NGOs or use their creativity to come up with innovative new projects of their own like the 100 mentors for Berlin project. In short, with adequate coaching this space in curricula can lead to truly bottom-up projects by students that have a real impact on society. There are interesting existing examples already for instance service learning programmes. University students learn by giving service. Around 30 groups developed ideas for tackling inequality in Higher Education

4 2. Constant dialogue and participatory processes between stakeholders External stakeholder participation. The participants stressed that the university is at the heart of a network of stakeholders, which should be in constant dialogue. Children, students, parents, NGOs, foundations, municipalities, education ministries and sponsors are principle stakeholders. In times of increased complexity and in a network of many stakeholders tackling societal inequalities universities should map their stakeholders and formulate various shared goals, overlapping competences and areas for increased cooperation. These initiatives can only be successful, if common goals are identified in combination with ownership, commitment of stakeholders and concrete aims are formulated. Internal stakeholder participation. Participatory processes with all stakeholders are an effective and inclusive way to gain more internal engagement. Participants agreed that management should invite representatives of the different target communities, students and staff to co-create long term strategies and make all voices heard and represented in the final outcomes. Giving internal stakeholders more decision making responsibility will likely increase their sense of ownership and belonging and this may trigger new initiatives aimed at reducing Inequalities. 3. Reducing barriers to higher education A number of external barriers can be removed by some simple, but radical interventions. These will reduce threshold and increase access for all groups of students in society who are considering entering higher education. The following ideas were most prominent: University Outreach. Provision of information to areas with a lower rate of attendance to higher education institutions. The aim is for high school students to get in touch with higher education by bringing the university to the students. This mobile form of promotion may show perspectives of studies and present stories of success. Kinder Uni Wien is already doing this with the Kinder Uni On Tour. Preparatory courses tailored to migrant/international student needs. Introductory programmes for people from abroad to prepare for university. These programmes should include lectures and workshops on identity development to empower students. The Erasmus Pre Academic Programme in Rotterdam provides interesting examples. Extra (academic) language courses for migrants wishing to study; introductory university courses in native tongues of migrants to improve their language skills and make use of the potential of the recent increase in young, ambitious and bright migrants entering Europe. Improved opportunities to work while studying. Need-blind admission, or: progressive tuition fees. Students pay tuition fees according to financial position of student s family. Example: if a prospective student s family is very poor the student pays no tuition. Likewise, if the family is richer-than-average tuition fees will be higher than the average fee. A number of internal barriers in higher education can be removed in order to prevent disadvantaged students or minorities to drop out of higher education: Buddy system. Peer to peer tutoring, peer to peer mentoring for migrant and 1 st generation students, which can also help create role models for those with a similar - 4 -

5 background. Sharing of stories is a powerful catalyst and can have a huge impact only if implemented properly. The peer mentors and tutors need to be trained and well prepared. Minimise costs of living through e.g. sponsored on-campus living, special low-cost cafeteria meals and financial advisors. Promote awareness of inclusiveness and diversity. Raise internal awareness of staff s cultural bias to foster inclusiveness and teach students to appreciate diversity. Participants prioritise their ideas during the Higher Education Symposium

6 4. Universal Tertiary Education This idea provided a possible paradigm shift in higher education. Instead of treating higher education as a life option for some, it becomes a mandatory part of character and skill development. Everybody has to attend tertiary education. In this proposal the system has high expectations of all students despite of their backgrounds. Students who don t want to choose another educational path outside tertiary education have the option to opt-out. Two conditions for the implementation of this idea were given: Inclusive institutions: every student has to feel a sense of belonging and the diversity of the student population should be represented in the university staff and the curriculum. Education that fosters the personal and academic development of students: A focus on identity development and values within the curriculum. 5. Increasing professors mobility This idea centres around the notion that students and professors alike are life-long learners. Developing exchange programmes between professors from different universities could have many positive effects. Especially when professors are exposed to working with different student populations. These sabbaticals in different environments, preferably abroad may: distribute new teaching methods and best practises across borders, bring new concepts and content to the university, encourage professors to engage in life long learning, re-evaluate their teaching styles, engage with new (international) perspectives, and inspire students. The exchange of professors could enrich their experience and enhance their understanding and awareness of working with diverse student populations between different institutions by ensuring a free flow of ideas and expertise and bring new practises of diversity management and outreach to host institutions. 6. Changes within university management The last cluster of ideas created by the higher education symposium s participants focused on the role of university management in decreasing inequalities. View university administration as a service instead of bureaucracy. This paradigm shift within the operation of institutions could shift parts of higher education management from a bureaucratic barrier to a student-center service approach. Reduce bias, use robots. This idea aims to compensate human implicit biases by replacing robots in higher education. It raises the question to what extent technology will continue to enter higher education practises and what effect it will have on inequalities. Secondly, it reminded participants that implicit bias, prejudice and stereotypes are constructed by humans and can only be reduced by humans - Higher education is the perfect place for that mission. The idea of using robots might be interesting and innovative but at the end of the day improving awareness with the aim to change attitudes are probably difficult to achieve by using robots. Dialogue, storytelling and exchanging views might be better ways to deal with diminishing implicit biases

7 Implement an exchange programme between stakeholders within the university for a day. Professors and students switching roles between each other would encourage lifelong learning practise. An exchange of students and professors into higher education management and vice versa would increase mutual understanding and awareness on each others roles, improve institutional transparency and may foster a culture of participatory decision making, new perspectives and mutual respect. Harvesting Team Contributors: Olena Chernova, Olha Latikaynen, Alexander Hartveld, Michael Vermeer Pictures: Philipp Naderer, Luiza Puiu

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