The ESMHE project is a result of an initiative by the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Education and Research (ÄK-U), which implements the policy of the Nordic Council of Ministries of Education and Research (MR-U). The project is a part of the “Action Plan for Nordic Co-operation on Disability 2015 – 2017” Focus area 3, Free movement, Activity 3.3: Study on the educational mobility of people with disabilities between the Nordic countries.
The project was a result of a request for project proposals by Nordic Council of Ministries the Nordic Welfare Centre 2015, with Universell1 and the University of Jyväskylä (JYU) as the only applicant. The partnership was established out from a long term relationship between the partners, and the NNDC network2 established in 2008. A project application was handed in to Nordic Welfare Centre by May 1st 2015, and accepted with minor amendments.The project report contains an overview over how each of the Nordic countries address disability in Higher Education, key findings about barriers and the national expert’s suggestions for key actions (chapter 4), the student voice and suggestions (chapter 5), and overall view on barriers and suggestions from the ESMHE project (chapter 6). All country reports are in appendix 1.
The key barriers against Nordic mobility revealed in the ESMHE project are:
- Lack of information and knowledge, both at the systemic level (HEIs and the public sector) and the individual level (counsellors and students)
- Roles and responsibilities between stakeholders supporting mobility are not well defined
- Lack of encouragement at the right level, especially at the HEIs and at funding institutions
- Lack of role models, at all levels
- Lack of overall policy, and there are gaps between policy and practice
- Lack of sufficient funding to cover additional costs
- Health conditions that limited possibilities to spend long time abroad are important individual challenges for mobility
The ESMHE suggestions are, briefly summarised:
- Create a forum for information sharing and good preparation of international mobility.
- Make a roadmap for accessibility and mobility at a Nordic level.
- Clear up roles and responsibilities – who is doing what in each country (municipalities, HEIs, public welfare, national organisations)
- Bring forward student ambassadors through Nordic information channels
- Ensure that there is an agreement on accessibility and disability support in the general university agreements on student mobility.
- Develop a Nordic “mobility-disability-coordinator” to promote equity in international mobility and advise national and HEIs’ mobility offices. This could be an
- Investigate alternative routes for student mobility
- Invest in further investigations and research about mobility for students with disability across the Nordic countries.
Disability in Higher Education has been on the agenda at Nordic Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) for decades. The numbers of students with disability have raised considerably the last 20 years. The Eurostudent survey (2015)3 claims that between 18 and 24% of the total student mass have some kind of physical or mental disability. More than 5% of the student mass reports that their disability affects their life as a student severely (ibid). Most European and all Nordic HEIs reports of more students coming forward with their difficulties, asking for both accommodations and support to keep them on track in their study programme.
The work for inclusion of students with disabilities has, until recently, been conducted by enthusiasts. Eventually, a slow development of an inclusive learning environment has been more systematically implemented by HEI authorities and management. International and national policy and legislation, and international initiatives like the UN Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD), have been important drivers for action on several areas. Most universities in the Nordic countries offers reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, some already work systematically with universally designed solutions, as well.
In spite of the work of both enthusiasts and the slowly evolving systems thinking, there are several areas where offices and services for students with disability are limited. International mobility is one of those areas, where disadvantaged groups – and especially students with disabilities – are underrepresented in the statistics. Special support staff, like the disability offices, have rarely been challenged to support students who want to go abroad as exchange students (taking parts of a degree in another country), and the students taking a full programme in another country have with almost no exceptions, never been contacting the disability experts in the HEIs. Even more important, the statistics of students with disability asking their international office for support, is equally low. Finally, financial support systems are offering very good support programmes for students with disability, but these systems are not very much used.
Both EU, the Nordic cooperation and most European and Nordic HEIs stress the importance of international mobility. An overall objective for student mobility is that at least 20% of the total student mass should include taking a part of their programme in a foreign country. In one of the Norwegian universities, the vision is that 40 % of all students should go abroad. When we know that almost 25 % of the students reports of a disability, and initial investigations show that under 1 % of the students going abroad has a defined disability, this leads to several questions: Why is the participation rate in international mobility among students with disabilities so low? Do the students with disabilities go abroad without using the service offered, also financially, by the institutions? Is the system not suitable for formal exchange, so the students with disabilities go abroad by themselves to a full programme? And important in this investigation, what is the most important barriers, and the key promoters to go to a Nordic country if you have a disability?
This is the background for this project called “Equity in Student Mobility in Nordic Higher Education” (ESMHE).