Combating barriers to participation

Combating barriers to participation

With the call for 2016 EAIE Award nominations underway, we’re highlighting some of the 2015 Award winners and their incredible achievements. In this first post, Isabell Majewsky Anderson gives us some insight into the programme that won her the 2015 Bo Gregersen Award for Best Practice. Read about the University of Edinburgh’s ambition to offer an international learning experience for all students and be inspired to create your own programmes with immediate impact and long-lasting enrichment for your students.

While of course, a major part of a university’s internationalisation strategy should always be about the experience of its own students, it’s all too easy to be complacent in this area because it can be lost among more hard edged, income-driven activities. In the long term though, the international experience of students is crucial for the development of any university. Here at the University of Edinburgh we have an ambitious vision to offer all of our students an international learning experience, enabling us to make a truly global impact, by 2025.

The Principal’s Go Abroad Challenge

In order to achieve our vision we have placed a new initiative, The Principal’s Go Abroad Challenge (PGAC) at the heart of our internationalisation strategy. PGAC maximises the exposure of our students to international opportunities and builds on and diversifies an already strong culture of internationalisation. It aims to combat barriers to participation, in widening access and promoting the message that these experiences are for everyone. Staff and students alike are inspired by a whole array of Go Abroad activities. Specifically, PGAC is designed to create an immediate impact and long-lasting enrichment to the student experience by offering more flexible and accessible short-term international experiences.
Building on best-practice models already in evidence at the University, PGAC was planned around four essential strands:

  • The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund; a large scale scholarship programme aimed at incentivising as many students as possible to engage with an international educational experience during their summer holidays.
  • An array of custom designed short-term initiatives created opportunistically in close collaboration with key partners and stakeholders, both internally and externally, and targeted at specific underrepresented groups.
  • Wrap-around reflective components to all of these programmes enable participants to develop vital reflective tools, derive maximum benefit from their experiences, and fully articulate these benefits to a range of audiences including prospective employers.
  • Two yearly showcase events launched in September 2013; The Go Abroad Event, aimed at promoting best practice amongst staff and inspiring colleagues to create their own initiatives, and The Homecoming Event, aimed at providing students with a forum to share and reflect on their experiences.

Establishing a culture of inclusivity

Through these programmes, we have instituted a culture which has made huge progress in circumventing traditional barriers to participation in international educational experiences. These programmes provide less expensive alternatives to traditional exchange options and flexible funding models. Students who rely on part-time work to support themselves or who might have caring responsibilities are provided with shorter stay options while issues surrounding accommodation are eradicated. Targeted messages are also sent out to under-represented groups to ensure we communicate the notion of accessibility to everybody.
Over recent years the initiative has resulted in a number of exciting opportunities for students:
Principals Go Abroad Fund (Summer 2014 and Summer 2015)
The flagship initiative for PGAC, The Principals Go Abroad Fund provided 322 students with a scholarship of £350 (£700 for Widening Participation (WP) students) to help fund an international educational experience during summer 2014 and 2015. The experiences proposed were as varied as our student body, with applications representing every single school and college and a vast array of activities from vets volunteering in Africa to students attending leadership conferences in Prague.
College on Wheels (September 2013)
A close collaboration between the International Office, the University’s India Office and the University of Delhi, College on Wheels allowed 85 Edinburgh students and 10 members of staff to join 800 students from the University of Delhi for an educational train journey through Northern India.
The Widening Horizons Programme (June 2014)
A close collaboration of the Widening Participation Team with Student Recruitment and Admissions, Edinburgh University Students Association and the University of British Columbia, this programme provided 10 Widening Participation Students with a fully funded study abroad experience. Students spent 10 days at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, connecting with the local student body and experiencing life in Canada.
The Widening Horizons Summer School (August 2015)
In collaboration with the University of Madras in Chennai, 10 WP students participated in a two week summer school. We also sent 10 WP students for a life-changing experience on a four week intensive Swahili Language course delivered by University staff in Tanzania.
Study Asia (Summer 2014)
Aimed at removing financial barriers to international experience and increasing the awareness among students of Asia as a study abroad destination, Study Asia provided nine Widening Participation students with scholarships of £1800 to enable them to participate in a summer school at one of our Asian Partner institutions.
Connect to India (September 2014)
A close collaboration of the Student Disability Service, the India Office and the University of Delhi, Connect to India enabled 11 Students with disabilities to participate on a cultural trip to India and to connect with students facing similar challenges in Delhi.
By creating an environment in which such flexible and varied offerings can be created, we have created a culture of inclusivity and circumvented the barriers to participation. This enables a variety of students from low participatory student groups, including students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, students with disabilities and students from low participation disciplines such as STEM subjects, to gain a vital international experience.