Higher education has often been inaccessible to specific groups. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights calls for accessible higher education recognizing that access to higher education is vital to lifelong learning.
Under this subtheme we explore the challenge of social inclusion in relation to the financial affordability of higher education (HE) and issues associated with accessibility for those students affected by poverty. This challenge is recognised by the United Nations (2014), who note that historically, higher education has often been inaccessible to particular groups. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights calls for accessible higher education, underlying the Sustainable Development Goals, which recognize that higher education must be globally accessible to all.
Participation in HE amongst the poorest students is lower than other groups. It is vital that universities do not ‘blame’ students from poor backgrounds for the economic challenges that may prove insurmountable barriers in terms of succeeding in HE. It is also crucial that universities do not require students from such backgrounds to bend themselves to inflexible assessment systems, draconian attendance requisites and unresponsive or inaccessible support systems. Universities can do more to incentivise equal participation by offering fee waivers and bursaries to enable a low-risk first step into HE.
Digital accessibility is about designing information and communication technology (ICT) to allow all people to access it. Modern distance education is more often than not web-based distance education. Students access the learning content online, read text online, watch videos distributed over the internet and discuss and work with other students using web-based tools such as course management systems.
One of the institutional challenges is that higher education institutions (HEI) have to consider that digital accessibility is not a one-time issue but arises all the time. Making digital teaching and learning accessible is a process the HEI continuously goes through. It is not only about developing and integrating new digital tools and processes into teaching and learning practices but about ensuring that all students can successfully use new tools and processes, thus making them fully accessible for all students. Developing institutional policies is one way to achieve this, but HEI have to make sure that they don’t develop too many policies, as this might hinder accessibility progress. HEI have to ensure that all the learning resources are accessible in accordance with the WCAG and other standards. The same applies to the digital infrastructure. Technical challenges also include the question of monitoring and evaluating. Who is responsible for assessing the accessibility of what part of the digital infrastructure? What approach is used to assess the accessibility? Another challenge is when the HEI or its stakeholders buy new hard- and software or when new versions of software are introduced. The “Buying Accessible” approach can be used to ensure that the HEI buy only accessible hard- and software.
Higher education institutions can implement:
• their own policies, clarifying what needs to be done to make their ICT systems accessible for all students, and decide who is responsible for which parts.
• digital accessibility training and guidelines to at least all faculty and staff. HEI can also raise awareness for digital accessibility among its members.
• clearly worded accessibility and disability statements, which ensure students and other members of the HEI that the institution cares about digital accessibility.
Digital higher education needs to support students with hearing, vision and mobility impairments.
The students concerned are faced with three challenges:
1) The fear of declaring oneself "disabled"
Through a record of the French Conference of University Presidents, students reveal the difficulties they encounter talking about it or even of showing their disability. For these students with functional disorders, perhaps 20-25%, might not wish to register themselves as such.
2) Social and academic inclusion
Students with disabilities don’t have access or don’t imagine that they can get access to university like regular students. Students with disabilities have to be promoted and empowered. There are mainly psychological or social issues which are family-related ones.
3) Lack of information and training of teachers
According to these students' statements, even if they wanted to identify themselves as functionally disabled students, some of them still suffer from a lack of information at the university. They explain that, very early in their approach, the upstream orientation towards the specialized actors, the search for the right people to contact and the suitable locations to find are very practical issues they are confronted with for a good insertion in a system that is nevertheless more adapted.
The good practices of universities are technical (lifts, access ramps; parking access badges; information desks at wheelchair level; loan of small electric motorized vehicles; ergonomic cushions; dedicated rest rooms; suitable materials), pedagogical (additional time in the exam, adaptation of tests; use of adapted equipment, e.g. braille displays; individual exam-arrangements) and human (implementation of a buddy system; administrative officers acting in multiple provinces).
This group of students has neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by significant and persistent difficulties in learning foundational academic skills for reading, writing, and/or mathematics. The affected academic skills are substantially and quantifiably below those expected for the individual’s chronological age, and cause significant interference with academic or occupational performance.
Many students with specific learning disorders, who do not receive adequate support and adjustments during primary and secondary education, fail to complete their education, or their achievements are not good enough for them to enter tertiary education. The first step is to secure their entry into higher education. Specific deficits can hinder students from learning independently, attending lectures, and completing study obligations and exams. Most often, they have problems listening to lectures and making notes at the same time, reading a large amount of a more demanding text, writing seminar papers, organizing study activities, preparing for exams, and recalling knowledge when taking exams. The consequences of these problems are reflected in a higher level of stress and more time spent achieving a similar level of efficiency as it can be achieved by their colleagues without any problems. Such problems of students are mostly invisible, so many teachers do not know or believe that students with specific learning disorders need any adjustments to the study process for successful study. It is therefore important that teachers receive appropriate training, where they can gain relevant knowledge about what can hinder students with specific learning disorders from successful education and how they can adapt the study process. In addition, some higher education teachers have doubts that these students can achieve the required levels of specific competences in a particular field of study and the subsequent professional activity.
A possible solution can be found in a tutor teacher being assigned to each student with specific needs and together they can formulate a proposal for adjustments to the study process. The tutor then monitors the student’s progress and, if necessary, after consultation with the student proposes new solutions. The proposal to adapt the study process is presented to all teachers who teach this particular student. Of course, each student must be empowered to negotiate with each of the teachers for the adjustments they need in order to be successful in his/her study. A group of tutor teachers who look after students with special needs can also be trained to formulate adaptation proposals.
One of the main barriers against inclusion of migrants in tertiary education is the lack of knowledge of the host country’s language. Language barriers may prevent successful communication with the local population on a daily basis, and significantly reduce access to essential services and support.
In European host countries, languages continue to be a challenge for successful integration of refugees. Language barriers may prevent successful communication with the local population on a daily basis, and significantly reduce access to essential services and support, which is often inaccessible to refugees who are not familiar with the Latin alphabet, or who have low levels of literacy in their own languages. Recognition of prior learning and skills / language certification processes are, at best, slow. There is a general lack of European and national level policy support, with too few concrete measures, a lack of funding for integration activities, and overall, a lack of visibility and recognition for the role of and the work done by the higher education sector. Also, the lack of multi-stakeholder collaboration hinders inclusion.
Inclusive institutional policies and practices
Each Open University must create and put in place a formal “Inclusion Plan”, which will describe the policies, practices and ethics that will widen participation of TCN in HE studies. Some suggested practices are flexible learning pathways, targeted TCN scholarships, support for multicultural research teams, promotion of role models, special “inclusion days” or campaigns etc.
Inclusive (or culture-neutral) educational material
Translating and offering educational material in TCN languages can make HE studies more attractive.
Fostering multicultural research
Open Universities, especially because they rely on modern technological means, can easily support the formation of multicultural research teams including TCN. At the same time, special funds should be systematically allocated to research on multiculturalism and issues related to accommodating TCN in HE. In this way Open Universities will pave the way for policies that will achieve a really inclusive HE in Europe, which will be based on actual research data.
Direct collaboration with TCN communities
By establishing mutual trust between University and local TCN communities, Open Universities can attract members of the communities to pursue HE studies. Members of the communities can be formally employed as mentors to assist TCN in accessing the University.
Specially designed education/training/re-skilling opportunities for TCN
Universities must take into account the TCN needs in course design. Firstly, they could offer language, culture and preparatory courses that lead to certification. In addition, they should make available a range of educational offers, from Short Learning Programmes to full courses, all of which are stackable and lead to certification, so that TCN can be enabled to access the market quickly and then return to complete their studies. The recent concept of micro-credentials, combined with a flexible “recognise-as-you-study” scheme could be an attractive opportunity.
Recognition scheme of prior learning / skills
Many TCN have already received HE qualifications from their countries of origin, but cannot provide the formal documents to prove this. Open Universities can put in place flexible schemes for recognition of prior learning and especially skills by giving TCN the opportunity to enroll and assess their achievement of learning outcomes. Moreover, Open Universities can collaborate at European level (e.g. via EADTU) so as to mutually recognize qualifications or ECTS that have been awarded by any Open University, thus accommodating the high degree of TCN volatility.
Make stakeholders and society aware of the potential of cultural differences
Open Universities can better accommodate TCN in their programmes, because by design, they are more flexible and tolerant to individual differences, while at the same time, they have strong ties with stakeholders and society. Exactly for this reason, Open Universities must seek to implement projects that on one hand enhance the inclusiveness of stakeholders and society and on the other hand provide targeted services to TCN.
Despite the fact that the proportion of female university applicants and students is generally high in most European countries, the ratio of women and men still varies greatly depending on the respective fields of study.
Gender bias and underrepresentation of women is most severe in the STEM area (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Here, gender-imbalances exist on all levels: among university applicants, students, teachers, principal lecturers, and professors. This bias results in a loss of talent for society and threatens the search for excellence in research.
Reviewing the gender ratio among university staff shows that in leading positions – professors and upper levels of management – women remain disproportionately underrepresented throughout all faculties, although certain exceptions related to particular disciplines or specific countries exist. Exploring the problem of female underrepresentation among higher levels also pinpoints the fact that the opposite is true for lower administrative tasks at universities: more women than men are to be found in auxiliary positions.
Progressing towards the equality of genders in the university sphere also necessitates detecting and stopping any (sexual) harassment based on sex, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. Given that universities are an integral part of society, they are as susceptible as any other area to situations of violence that may be triggered by gender inequalities.
A great number of universities have experience in projects aiming to encourage women to apply for traditionally male-dominated fields. For example, NaisTech in TAMK, Finland. Experience shows that such influencing should occur during upper secondary education before the application to higher education studies. Once at university, all genders should be encouraged to choose any field of study that is of interest. Treating staff equitably is an important managerial task. Equality is believed to have a positive effect on the wellbeing of students and staff and their experience of being equal. In that way it positively affects the university community in its entirety. In this regard, university awareness training represents one method of sensitizing university staff to genderrelated imbalances.
The article 26 of the Universal declaration of human rights defines Education as a basic, universal right for everybody, independently of his/her conditions, idiosyncrasy, or circumstances. This is a principle that is sometimes forgotten in certain circumstances, as in the case of people held in prisons.
The deprivation of liberty has a direct impact on the possibilities, and characteristics of learning. The limitation of movement, and isolation determine the well-being, and health of people with special incidence of psychological factors. Experiential or problem-based pedagogies are unsuitable for the prison environment. Prisons are also environments with specific rules that determine the procedures, spaces, times, means, and organization of learning. The organised environment, and the available time seem advantageous. Further, the penitentiaries also present scarce resources, no connection to the internet, control of activities, absence of tutorial support, and forced locations that are clear obstacles to learning wellbeing.
The deprivation of liberty has a direct impact on the possibilities, and characteristics of learning. The limitation of movement, and isolation determine the well-being, and health of people with special incidence of psychological factors. Experiential or problem-based pedagogies are unsuitable for the prison environment. Prisons are environments with specific rules that determine the procedures, spaces, times, means, and organization of learning. The organised environment, and the available time seem advantageous. Further, the penitentiaries also present scarce resources, no connection to the internet, control of activities, absence of tutorial support, and forced locations that are clear obstacles to learning wellbeing. Frequent movement between prison locations can also prevent continuity of learning. Lack of internet access means that paper versions of course materials must be provided, and these may not be suitable, for example, when interaction is required (Adams & Pike, 2012; Moreira, 2021).
Digital higher education needs to support athletes, artists and army staff who have various levels of expertise, and who engage in sportive creative protective activities for profit, personal enjoyment or job.
Some of the challenges that the army is faced with are: 1) almost no exception or special treatment regarding materials and assessment, 2) the assessment times and places are problematic and 3) there is not enough data on open university preference.
Students may receive student athlete status if they are classified by the National Olympic Committee as an Olympic, World, International, Perspective, National, or Junior athlete, or receive an equivalent confirmation from abroad if they are foreign students. These students can receive adjustments when it comes to the extent to which they have to participate in the study process, they can also receive individual examination dates, they can receive different types of assessments if they cannot participate in the same type of assessment that other students go through.
The UNED has a series of actions specifically designed to support elite athletes:
1) Recognition of credits for being registered in high-level sports organizations or for representing the UNED in university competitions.
2) Specific tutorial support plan to help make academic activity compatible with sport.
3) Financial aid from the university in the public prices of the tuition, bag for books and didactic materials and endowment of material and sports clothing.
4) Professional guidance advising on the professional opportunities of the careers.
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