Social Inclusion in Higher Education

The FHWS 3IN project organised a second webinar on the 18th November 2020. After the first webinar in May this year was such a success, the project team decided to hold a second online lecture. This time, the main topic was the inclusion of disadvantaged groups to education. Thanks to different speakers from the 3IN project’s partner universities, the webinar included different approaches and concepts with different international perspectives. The webinar consisted of five presentations held by professors from various institutions. Among the speakers were professors of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS), Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (DIAK) in Finland and VID University in Norway.

After a warm welcome by Kristina Gehring and Stefanie Witter, the project coordinators of FHWS 3IN, the lecture was kicked off by the first expert of the day, Tanja Kleibl.

Tanja Kleibl is a professor at the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences at the FHWS and focusses her teaching and research on topics such as social work and globalisation, migration, society and politics as well as diversity and international social work. Her lecture was about the linkage of postcolonial theory and inequality in Western higher education institutions.

She started off by giving us some global context and by pointing out inequalities. She underlined the fact that there has been a rapid increase in global inequalities within and between countries and regions. Professor Kleibl included statistics providing information on inequality and discrimination at German schools and universities drawing the focus on Germany and on to the term of “Whiteness” (compare Kleibl_3in-webinar). She explained whiteness as a political definition that stands for privilege and racism. In her opinion, not enough is done at the moment to put an end to racism and in order to include indigenous knowledge into a scientific context. This knowledge needs to be decontextualized and this will only be possible if new didactic methods are developed as it is not enough to just provide new information. She drew the conclusion that a full inclusion of all students can only be achieved by raising the ethical standards and by developing more diverse methods.

Inger Marie Lid is a professor at the Centre of Diaconia and Professional Practice at the VID specialised university of Norway. Her main emphasis in research and teaching lies in interdisciplinary disability research, citizenship studies and research ethics. Together with other professors, she has developed a pedagogical pilot project that focusses on the access to higher education for students with intellectual disabilities. Inger Marie Lid is very passionate about the equal access to higher education institutions, as only a few decades ago, she, as a woman, had problems to be granted access to higher education institutions.

She explained the need for a project like this in Norway, as people with disabilities do not have access to higher education institutions in Norway and that their education ends after high school. The project is a cooperation between VID, the Oslo municipally and a variety of NGOs as well as it is taking in expertise from projects in other countries such as Germany. A very important aspect for the initiators is to take a human rights approach and value social justice, equality and dignity. Professor Lid knows that this project comes with great responsibility as education equals access to resources and everyone should have the same access to resources. The curriculum of their project is supposed to be ready by 2021. Then, they are hoping to welcome the first students to their two-year programme incorporating 60 ETCS. The project is designed to adapt to the learning style, need for affiliation and tutoring as well as pedagogical support of the learners (compare Lid_3in-webinar). They are planning to mix the two traditional approaches of full inclusion on the one hand and strict segregation on the other hand within institutions in order to achieve the best possible learning atmosphere for their participants.

The two professors are members of DIAK in Finland and have put their main emphasis in research and teaching on multiculturalism and social inclusion. The two have initiated a project that is supposed to make the access to higher education easier for students coming from immigrant and Roma families. In their presentation, they described the outcome of their project and methods used to achieve their goals.

First of all, they mentioned that their project was implemented at two different locations in Finland. They launched the project in Satakunta and in Northern Ostrobothinia. Their aims were to facilitate the transition from one educational level to the next and to create accessible digital material on possibilities for immigrants. They developed a sensitive support framework and offered preparatory trainings during which the participants improved their Finnish language skills as well as the skills required at higher education institutions. Like this, they wanted to achieve a more equal examination process for ethnic minorities. As they had way too many applicants, they had to establish an entrance examination. Once in the programme, the students were supported in various areas: Finnish language, student tutoring, personal support, multicultural trainings. The project has been going on ever since 2016 and has now brought forward 60 graduations, 1300 participants in trainings and events and facilitated access to education for people coming from immigrant and Romani families enabling them to make their occupational dreams come true (compare Halonen-Pinoletho_3in-webinar). According to the professors, the personal contact and tutoring was one of the most important aspects, as they received immediate feedback and were able to adapt the programme very fast.

Professor Vibeke Glørstad is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Health at VID Norway. As a researcher, she focusses on the inclusion of citizenship of people with learning disabilities as well as the use of art and community theatre as an area of expression and democracy in Zimbabwe and Europe. She is specialised in the fields of arts-education, citizenship and cognitive disabilities. In her presentation, she talked about the situation in Europe and presented a framework to understand how theatre practice puts human rights into practice and how creative and intellectual potential can enrich the society.

Professor Glørstad took a human rights approach when she mentioned that education is a human right and that people with disabilities are not to be excluded from this. Moreover, she mentioned theatre performances as freedom of expression and therefore underlined her proposal to higher education institutions to include theatre activities and arts for disabled people by implementing workshop education and theatre groups in their curriculum. Another aspect that is very important to Professor Glørstad is active citizenship. Everyone has the right to live an active citizenship by pursuing autonomy and the life one values and by participating and influencing the society and decisions made within it. According to her, there is no better way achieving this than via theatre. In order to make this aspect more visible, she has dedicated her research to already existing theatres and to find out more about their ways of inclusion and participation. She presented theatres in Serbia, Switzerland and Norway that sometimes already have a cooperation with higher education institutions and presented their particular ways of realising inclusion (compare Gorstad_3in-webinar). She ended her presentation on the note that culture is always an enrichment of society and that, most importantly, theatre is about passion and passion is within everyone.

The last lecture of the day was held by Professor Theresia Wintergerst. She is working as a professor at the FHWS and is part of the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences. Her main teaching subject is values, norms and social policy. Her focus lies on generation-sensitive social work and social work in an aging society. In her lecture, Professor Wintergerst took a more theoretical approach on inequality at higher education institutions and focussed on discrimination because of social inequality.

She started off by naming several hurdles in the German society that hinder disadvantaged members of our society to enter higher education systems. Often, the problems already start at an early age and some people have problems passing the hurdle of attaining a university entrance qualification. One of the main problems is that the social background plays an important role when it comes to education. As a result, the educational background of the parents is often influencing the decision to go to university. Moreover, people are often afraid to choose university as a career path as they are unsure about how to finance their studies and their employment possibilities. She justified this way of decision making with a theory by Pierre Bourdieu. He analyses and defines the term “Habitus” as an interaction between motivation, opinions, experiences and life styles and the social environment. “Habitus” means that people always try to copy and imitate familiar situations. The “Habitus” is then again influenced by human capital. Society is known to have three different types of human capital: symbolic capital (income and wealth), cultural capital (qualifications, degrees) and social capital (relationships and networks). Therefore, people are for example evaluating the relation between financial investment and investments for the future or are influenced by people they are in a relation with to go to or not to go to a university. Professor Wintergerst then connected this theory with an approach by Amartya Sen saying that people need to include and expand freedoms that enable them to live a better life and to exclude all the things limiting their personal freedom, such as a lack in economical potential. In order to achieve this, universities should encourage transparency and ensure equal opportunities. She ended her lecture with an extensive to-do list that could be an inspiration for every university in order to achieve social inclusion in all university matters and to work towards equal chances for everyone (compare Wintergerst_3in-webinar).


Yet again, the webinar organized by FHWS 3IN was a success and all the participants as well as speakers gained very interesting and especially international insights to different forms of inequality. We talked about structural racism in Germany, providing access to higher education for people with learning difficulties (Norway) and immigrants (Finland) as well as the effect of inclusive theatre groups on equal participation (Norway) and hurdles for citizens coming from disadvantaged families in Germany. We learned about many already existing programmes and initiatives as well as it was made quite clear that there are still a lot of things that need to be done and changed. But most importantly, every lecturer proposed different ways of how to tackle inequality at a national as well as international level.

A huge thank you yet again to all the speakers who made this afternoon interesting and made the participants more sensible towards social inequality. We hope that the professors will be able to implement their new knowledge into their teaching and pass on new insights to their students as well as we hope to further connect our higher education instituions.