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The EUTOPIA inclusion action is an innovative and challenge-driven initiative, including the mission to promote and ensure that higher education is inclusive and accessible to all students.
Implementing principles of inclusion, openness, equality and diversity requires from higher education institutions to move beyond traditional exchange approaches, and to integrate well-coordinated practices and programmes that are explicitly and genuinely designed to support two key goals:
- Foster the inclusion of all, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, regional affiliation, migration background, capability, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or expression;
- Attend to the relationship between ideal inclusivity agendas on the one hand, and real student body balance and financial inequality issues, on the other hand.
The particularity of this action is to conceptualise inclusive practices while these are being implemented. Our basic premise is that people who have personally experienced exclusion know the situation best and are thus also the best partners in planning inclusive policies and practices. By inviting students from disadvantaged groups to share their experiences and participate in activities, we demonstrate what inclusion is—giving space to underprivileged individuals, hearing them and showing that good planning comes from the bottom up, and not the other way around. Inclusive higher education contributes to the individual development, wellbeing and increases the educational opportunities of individuals from disadvantaged groups and less developed regions. It also drives convergence upwards in higher education itself, thus creating a dynamic virtuous spiral. All students thereby reap the advantages of a more inclusive higher education set of policies and practices, at local, regional and international levels of improvement. They are empowered via this student-centred mission. At the same time, the potentiality and plurality of Europe’s educational regions are championed, embodied and enhanced, to socioeconomic and participatory ends as well as educational ones. Besides their participation to the ongoing issues of quality, progress and competitiveness, inclusive higher education institutions can act as direct role models for the broader society and help to the transformative development of social justice and inclusivity.
The project’s main principle is to provide learning opportunities for all groups of students and especially those who are disadvantaged because of their sex, race, ethnicity, immigrant background, economic status, disability, and so on. To this end, the project seeks to achieve two goals: develop recommendations and initiatives promoting equality and inclusion for the disadvantaged groups, and jointly build expertise on how the European principles of openness and inclusion could be applied to all European regions, including the Western Balkans, especially in connection with education. With few exceptions, the universities in this region can include structurally disadvantaged students in international academic activities, based on their ability to secure international research funding.
As part of the EUTOPIA pilot project, the action of promotion of inclusion and equal societies will contribute to:
- A shared definition of disadvantage.
- Developing recommendations and initiatives for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups.
- Designing strategies and methods of education for the inclusion of the Western Balkans.
- Creating a joint research programme focusing on issues concerning the Western Balkans.
- Raising awareness of and providing information on best practices and celebrating diversity by holding a “Diversity Day ”.
The implementation of this action within the EUTOPIA pilot project proves that inclusion is not just a buzzword in today’s European social or university policies, but that such participation can exist and facilitate changes for disadvantaged students. By ensuring inclusion and participation, we can create a university of the future open to everyone.