Creating the EUTOPIA Inclusion Framework

This resource was made by the Inclusion team (known as Work-Package 5) in the EUTOPIA-2050 project, from December 2019 to November 2022. It represents extensive collaborations between the staff and students of the EUTOPIA Alliance.

The Work of the Inclusion Team

Work-Package 5 of EUTOPIA-2050 carried out their work in six phases:

  • Phase 1
    The six partners share, analyse, and reflect upon their inclusion policies. We agree on common definitions of inclusion and disadvantage, and explore ways of identifying best practices. A set of alliance-wide Core Principles and a Roadmap to Inclusive Practice in HE are created.
  • Phase 2
    The six partners share, analyse, and reflect upon their inclusion practices. We identify distinctive best practices across the universities, and potential areas to foster common ground and dialogue. A set of Inclusion Case Studies is created.
  • Phase 3
    An Inclusion Framework is created, presenting the Core Principles, Roadmap to Inclusive Practice in HE, and Inclusion Case Studies in draft form. We agree on the content and structure of this Framework, and on the process for developing it during the rest of the project.
  • Phase 4
    Twenty-seven students are recruited to participate in the Inclusion Project, a series of co-creative workshops. Students share their experiences of inclusion and exclusion, propose new ideas for inclusive practices in EUTOPIA, and suggest substantial revisions to the Inclusion Framework (see below).
  • Phase 5
    A revised version of the Inclusion Framework is published online, featuring new and expanded versions of all the above outputs, as well as Inclusion Testimonials provided by the students themselves. An Inclusion Manifesto is created, distilling the key actions required of EUTOPIA in its next phase.
  • Phase 6
    Inclusion is embedded transversally across the EUTOPIA-MORE work-packages. The alliance’s inclusion team work with this new infrastructure to continue developing the outputs created so far, and to maintain ongoing co-creative dialogue with the students and staff of EUTOPIA.

The Contribution of Students

As described in Phases 4 and 5 (above), students played an integral role in shaping the Inclusion Framework, as well as providing personal accounts of their own experience of inclusion and exclusion at university (see Student Perspectives on Inclusion).

Below, we summarise the insights students provided when we discussed the first version of the Inclusion Framework with them.

Positive feedback

Students responded positively to several aspects of the Framework:

They found it clear and accessible, both in terms of how it is written and because it is presented online: this makes it easy to see, at a glance, how EUTOPIA approaches inclusion, and to navigate from general principles to more detailed case studies.

They noted that the Inclusion Framework should be useful in ensuring the transparency and accountability of EUTOPIA: if properly disseminated, it is a resource that anyone could find and use as a reference-point for how the alliance approaches (or is supposed to approach) inclusion.

To some extent, they found the ‘Core Principles’ and ‘Roadmap to Inclusion’ appropriate and persuasive, especially for the following reasons:

  • Students appreciated the imperative to use co-creation as a central ‘format to facilitate inclusion’: one student singled out the use of the word ‘must’ in Core Principle 2 as a key mandate to employ co-creation in all aspects of Higher Education. In response, we emphasised this in the Core Principles by beginning each one with the phrase ‘European Universities must…’.
  • Several students liked the emphasis on the transparency and visibility of university processes and bodies in the Roadmap. They noted that the lack of transparency and visibility is one of the key obstacles to achieving inclusion in the current HE landscape.
  • Students appreciated the sense, created by the Inclusion Framework as a whole, that EUTOPIA partners are looking for common ground while also paying attention to their differences. This balance of unity and individuality was seen by several students as a key aspect of inclusive educational culture.

Students found the first set of case studies very interesting and looked forward to seeing this section of the Inclusion Framework developed in future: they wished to get a better sense of the variety of initiatives at the different universities.

Areas for improvement

We also encouraged the students to offer more critical responses to the Inclusion Framework, so that it could be revised to better reflect their wants and needs, and their conception of inclusion. Students made the following comments and suggestions regarding how the Framework could be improved:

Many students found the Framework overly vague and ambiguous in places, and argued that it should be clarified.

First and foremost, the Framework should define what inclusion means for EUTOPIA, and in Higher Education more generally. For example, students noted that key terms like ‘co-creation’, ‘gender’, and ‘racism’ can be conceived in different ways, and that it is hard to see how EUTOPIA will promote inclusion if it does not define these concepts clearly (as well as ensuring that the definitions promote an intersectional approach to inclusion). In response, we added a new section (‘What is inclusion?’) at the start of the Framework. We also added new text at the top of the case studies page to emphasise that categories of inclusion and exclusion can be defined and understood differently, or in different terms, across cultures – and that this is something the alliance needs to explore in the future.

Several students found the original wording of Core Principle 1 to be confusing (although they liked the idea behind it), and helped us to express the idea more clearly.

Similarly, students liked the way that Core Principle 3 foregrounds the complexity of inclusion, and its shifting nature in relation to different contexts, but found the wording of the principle overly ambiguous. This was identified as a key challenge facing EUTOPIA in developing the Inclusion Framework: to allow for openness and individual interpretation, while balancing this with clear language that shows how the alliance will actually facilitate inclusion in Higher Education. Again, with the students’ help, we re-wrote Core Principle 3 to emphasise not only the importance of flexibility, but also the need to balance this with clarity.

While students felt the that Framework was an interesting and useful resource, they argued that more thought should be put into questions about its function: who are the imagined recipients, and for what purpose are they engaging with the Framework? These are key questions for the alliance to address as it takes this work forward in the EUTOPIA-MORE project.

The students also argued that the Framework should contain stronger strategic elements: the core principles and roadmap should not only express general principles and statements of intent, but also show how these ideas can be implemented in practical terms. In the initial draft, there was a lot of material about ‘what EUTOPIA would like to do’, but not ‘by whom’ and ‘how’. This is another important issue for the alliance to address moving forward, and the comment is represented in Stage 4 of the ‘Roadmap to inclusive practice’.

Specifically, the students wanted to see a clearer statement about how co-creation and dialogue can be facilitated between students and staff, overcoming the barriers that currently prevent this happening. Several students discussed their experience of trying to engage in dialogue with members of staff, but encountering various cultural or administrative obstacles. These issues were represented in Core Principle 5, and in Stage 4 of the Roadmap.

Students felt there should also be more specific references to the importance of staff training and curriculum revision, as no general principles regarding inclusive education will be effective without some provision for those who implement the principles. This reflects a point made by students at the outset of the EUTOPIA project, regarding the importance of including staff in discussions of inclusion, both as stakeholders who should benefit from inclusive policies and practices, and as the direct facilitators of educational activities. In response, we added Core Principles 4 and 5 to the Framework.

Students argued that the Framework should give greater emphasis to the importance of follow-up and evaluation in the way the universities facilitate inclusion. In particular they suggested that the Roadmap needed a fifth stage, ‘Evaluation’, where actions are reviewed and revised through an ongoing reflective and co-creative process, in line with Core Principle 2’s reference to co-creation, and Core Principle 3’s reference to the dynamic and ever-changing nature of inclusion. In response, we added a fifth stage to the Roadmap.

Students felt there should be more emphasis on how universities fulfil their obligation to adjust curricula to different students’ needs: the framework should explicitly say that these adjustments are rights, and not ‘special treatment’. In response, we added new text to Stage 1 of the Roadmap, representing this idea.

Students pointed out that the initial batch of case studies did not include direct testimonials regarding student experience. Such practices may appear inclusive in principle, but can be experienced very differently by individuals, as students made clear through vivid accounts of their own and others’ experiences. The case studies should reflect these perspectives, and should offer more critical points of view rather than simply being showcases of ‘best practice’. These perspectives should also include the voices of those not currently attending university, as well as students who are by definition ‘included’ to some extent. Our students’ critical voices are represented in their testimonials (see Student Perspectives on Inclusion [link]), and these are linked to from the ‘case studies’ page. We will also continue to discuss, as an alliance, how universities can represent such critical voices when presenting their inclusion-related initiatives: this is an important challenge for EUTOPIA to address.