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Higher Education on a Journey for Equality and Success

By Agnese Cigliano, ASEF Young Reporter

How do institutions promote equality in higher education? Is this limited to the access to programs or can it be extended to success in the education journey?

The ASEF Capacity Building Workshop on Equitable Access and Success in Higher Education aims at analysing these questions and, possibly, finding effective solutions to achieve quality education for all. The workshop series kicked off on Friday, November 19th, with participants from ASEM countries across Asia and Europe. The participants, all involved in higher education in different capacities, from University’s Deans to EDI Officers, had a chance to share some of their most pressing issues and concerns.

It has been noted that the higher education landscape has proven to be increasingly competitive, especially for public universities. With limited funding and constant competition to attract donors and be able to offer more scholarships, universities are often found adapting their curriculum and offering to comply with requirements and criteria that make them more attractive for public investments in education. Against this background, the main purpose of higher education cannot be ignored and left apart. All the conversations of the engaging sessions that opened the Capacity Building Workshop had an underlying question, bringing together all the participants: how can we facilitate equality of access and success in education and how can we make this mission a reality?

Designing for Value

The pressing question all participants want to answer can be translated into a value proposition for program designing. It entails two different but converging dimensions: equality and success. In practical terms, this means not only enabling students from different backgrounds and circumstances to access higher education programmes, but also to complete them with no additional obstacles, with the completion of the programs themselves being seen as a success indicator. We can appreciate how this will also produce a positive impact when looking at the return of investment in education, as students who are able to complete their programs within the set timeframes contribute to talent and workforce efficiency. Success in higher education, then, seems like the ideal scenario where every key actor wins. However, we all know that this may not be as immediate and straightforward. How do we achieve this?

Human-Centred Approach: The Case of Amir

During the second session of the workshop series, Dr Edizon Fermin, Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the National Teachers College of the Philippines, invited participants to analyse issues through the lenses of the human-centred approach and come up with possible solutions designing for value. Participants closely analysed the case of Amir, a fictional student looked at as an ideal beneficiary. Amir is an engineering major student, he has physical disabilities, and his family background is economically disadvantaged. Participants looked at his complex and overlapping needs and built on experiences and best practices to suggest multifaceted solutions and to enable Amir to navigate his academic journey, also looking at his mental health needs and the creation of an inclusive environment for his special physical requirements.

Interestingly enough, mental health played an important role in the discussion, with participants highlighting the importance of mental wellbeing to approach the experience of higher education harmoniously and, ultimately, succeed in the completion of a program. It has been mentioned that some institutions developed a peer mental and emotional support buddy system, creating safe spaces to share the challenges of students in their journey and potentially escalate arising issues, whenever targeted professional support is required. This is in line with the augmented attention given to the individual in value design, and the entire cohort agreed on the importance of including students when addressing the challenges of higher education and finding solutions together.

The 5Ps Model

After looking at the fictional case of Amir, participants applied the 5Ps Model illustrated by Dr Fermin to cases closer to their practical experience in real life. The 5Ps Model focuses on five different aspects and stages: purpose, principles, processes, people, and performance. It is through these elements that experts and professionals can design for value and achieve results in line with their vision, focusing on equality and success in higher education in the case of the participants of the ASEF Capacity Building Workshop.

Getting Closer to Equality and Success

There has been a wide variety of issues presented, and possible solutions to achieve the common vision that brings all participants together to the sessions. Some of the challenges are broad and generally relatable, like increasing awareness on equality and access among students and enabling students to develop practical skills and be ready for the work environment and job market. Some are more specific and are aimed at addressing students coming from geographically isolated areas such as islands that can only be reached by boat and understanding the basic reasons leading religious minorities not to enrol in higher education in regions presenting low diversity with clearly identified minorities.

All the issues shared are pressing and require a diversified approach to be addressed. It is not easy, but after only a few sessions the enthusiasm of the participants strengthens the belief that a more inclusive landscape in higher education is possible, and can be achieved by working together and bringing all key actors to the decision-making table.

NOTE: The Capacity Building Workshop on Equitable Access and Success in Higher Education, organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) Education Department, brought together 34 participants select from 52 ASEM Countries to discuss equitable access and success in higher education in Asia and Europe and develop bespoke action plans. To learn more about the project visit the ASEF Website, click here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely by the author(s) and do not represent that of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)​.
Copyright © 2022.




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