22 SES 02 C, Strategic Practices of Inclusion & Exclusion
Latin America is one of the regions of the world with the greatest and most persistent inequality, according to some of the basic indicators studied (i.e., incomes, consumptions expenditures, political influence, health and education, among others) (Gasparini & Cruces, 2013; Ascher &Mirovitskaya, 2012). University graduation and access rates are clear evidence of the level of equity, quality and efficacy of university systems, as well as the level of social development of countries (OECD, 2011). The rising importance of higher education policies, as one of the main driving forces behind economic competitiveness, has been accompanied by substantial reforms (i.e., greater flexibility, reappraisal of the policies’ purposes, more clearly defined accountability to society) that attempt to bring higher education institutions (HEIs) more in line with the needs of society (Santiago et al., 2008). Thus, higher education in Latin America has been going through an important restructuring process for some years: (1) increasing access to higher studies, (2) promoting co-ordination with other universities and university systems and, (3) the establishment of efficacy criteria, such as, for example, success and drop-out rates (UNESCO-IESALC, 2010).
According to CINDA data (2011), between 2000 and 2008 there was a 62% increase in enrolment, mainly in the female population, which means that approximately 22 million people (13% of worldwide enrolment) enrol in higher education in the region. However, there remain certain inequalities (CINDA, 2011): (1) the access of women is mainly in the area of social sciences; (2) the highest percentage of enrolments are in the private sector; (3) the probability of access to higher education is lower for people from backgrounds with lower socioeconomic levels. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are in a situation of inequality in terms of access, the continuity of studies and the results of learning. Additionally, vulnerable populations comprise people who, by their personal characteristics or particular circumstance, are, for the most part, exposed to exclusion, poverty and the effects of inequity and violence of all kinds. Often, inequalities in education with causes linked to geographic origin, low socioeconomic background, income, social class, gender, ethnicity or disabilities, among others, constitute critical dimensions of social exclusion (Byrne, 2005).
Recent research (Mato, 2012) demonstrates the role that university education plays in the system of promoting the most disadvantaged groups, supplying tools for professional and social promotion. Thus, university systems in Latin America must not only face the challenge of incorporating those groups that are traditionally excluded but also aspire to turn universities into a framework for developing a set of skills that allow the active, critical and transformative participation of citizens in their economic and social systems. The development of policies that facilitate access to education opportunities is fundamental to combating the permanent nature of exclusion (Gidley et al., 2010).
Despite the many efforts and numerous existing studies, inequalities in access and completion of higher education still remain (Bashir & Luque, 2012). Since existing indicators do not adapt entirely to the reality of inequality in the region (Aponte-Hernández, 2008), reducing inequalities and exclusion in Latin America, as a strategy to promote the sustainable development of our society, necessitates, among many other aspects, a contextualised delimitation of the vulnerable groups.
Thus, from a qualitative approach, the aim of this paper is to understand in depth governing board perceptions about exclusion factors in higher education institutions in Latin America. This study thus offers an empirical analysis of students’ exclusion factors from risk environments to take into account during the academic life of any student in higher education.
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