04 SES 02 A, How Is Inclusion Perceived By Students, Teachers And Administrative Staff?
In the last 30 years, there has been a considerable paradigm shift in education regarding inclusive education policy and practice around the globe. Inclusive education is viewed as a cornerstone of a transformative education agenda that enhances changes at all educational levels (UNESCO, 2016). Although initially inclusive education was developed as a philosophical idea (Göransson & Nilholm, 2014), later developed as an inclusive approach to pedagogy, known as inclusive pedagogy (Florian & BlackHawkins, 2011), it was implemented in general education (preschool, primary school, secondary school) in particular, were seen in higher education, too. Inclusion in higher education is broadly perceived as a phenomenon whereby higher education institutions become more accessible to everyone, especially to disadvantaged and previously excluded or marginalised groups of people, thus providing opportunities to study and participate meaningfully in the same learning and social activities as others and to have a qualitative education. The term diversity is used to describe ‘a population where people within the protected classes are represented’ (Scott, 2020).
Even though the initial discussions on inclusive HE were held in the early 1990s and the topic is not new in educational research, in practice the changes in HE are not so rapid. The HE political, social, and institutional contexts can be very diverse in different countries (Armstrong & Cairnduff, 2011). Many studies elsewhere have been carried out by analysing important issues related to inclusion in higher education in national contexts, such as general challenges related to inclusion in higher education (Moriña, 2017), perception of inclusive education in higher education (Martins, Borges, & Gonçalves, 2018), the inclusion of students with disabilities (Beauchamp-Pryor, 2012; Collins, Azmat, & Rentschler, 2019; Hutcheon & Wolbring, 2012; Madriaga et al., 2010; Mutanga, 2018; Parker, 1998; Van Den Heuij, Neijenhuis, & Coene, 2018; Yusof, Chan, Hillaluddin, Ramli, & Saad, 2020), the inclusion of socioeconomically disadvantaged students (Armstrong & Cairnduff, 2011; Lesley, 2016; Weedon & Riddell, 2016), the inclusion of students with minority ethnic backgrounds (D’Arcy & Galloway, 2018; Weedon & Riddell, 2016), internalisation challenges related to inclusion (Iñiguez, 2011), and social inclusion (Gale & Hodge, 2014). There is still a need to continue to reflect on existing practices in the way inclusive pedagogies are performed in HE, as the researchers do not share a common understanding of inclusive pedagogies in HE (Stentiford & Koutsouris, 2020).
Since 2014 there has been a strong political movement towards inclusive education in Latvia (Izglītības un zinātnes ministrija, 2013); however, most studies have been done on inclusive education in general education. A rather small number of studies have been carried out exploring inclusion and its practice in higher education (Rubene et al., 2016, Tubele, et al.,2017, Tamtik, Jang, 2018, Iliško et al., 2020, Nimante, Baranova, 2019).
We will analyse university administrative staffs’ perception of inclusion by addressing three questions to more broadly investigate the phenomenon: What constitutes inclusion in university education? What are the support systems provided for diverse students to ensure the smooth transition from general education to higher education and later in the study process? What support and training are provided to administrative and academic staff to ensure that the educational needs of diverse student bodies are met?
The research was carried out from January 2020 to June 2020. This exploratory and descriptive study follows a qualitative methodology. We used a single case study to explore the phenomena and answer the research questions. We selected the University of Latvia for our case study for several reasons: its size (it is the largest higher education institution in Latvia); its openness to being studied; its accessibility; the fact that all of the researchers work in the university; and the fact that it was possible to organise interviews with all levels of administrative staff. Based on theoretical analyses (Moriña, 2017) one set of semi-structured interview scripts was developed to interview administrative staff about their perceptions regarding inclusion in university. The questions consisted of two parts. The first part included closed-ended questions about demographic characteristics (years of employment at the institution, education, position). The second and main part was based on research questions. The following are examples of interview questions that we included in our interviews: ‘How would you explain inclusive education in higher education? Could you provide some examples? And others. Individual, face-to-face interviews with university administrative staff were conducted. Before each interview, participants were informed of the main purpose of the study and assured of confidentiality. The investigation was conducted based on the ethical requirements by University of Latvia. Seven interviews were held with administrative staff. Selection criteria for the staff interviewees were as follows: (1) voluntary participation; (2) having a workplace in the HE institution; (3) position; (4) at least three years of experience at the institution. Data collection was followed by thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006) driven by research questions. As is acknowledged by Braun and Clark (2006), thematic analysis involves searching the data and finding repeating patterns of meaning; it identifies, analyses, and reports patterns (themes) within data. After the data was transcribed the researchers started reading and rereading the data. After that, codes were identified jointly by all the researchers. The coding was done manually, after which codes were arranged in mind maps. Potential themes emerged. Established themes were reviewed several times. Final themes were described and analysed, and some data matches were performed.
The research findings suggest that inclusive education by HE administrators is perceived as a new principle in HE which takes into account the diversity of students The new disadvantaged groups, such as students with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and re-emigrants have emerged in HE. According to the participants, access to higher education for all is currently limited both by the requirements for students entering higher education and by professional standards set out for certain study programs. A person’s intellectual abilities are also considered to be an important prerequisite for starting studies in higher education. The study participants agreed that if a student is enrolled in an HE institution, assuming that he has met the requirements, then it is important to make sure that no new barriers are created which prevent accessibility. The most common barrier to access mentioned were barriers connected within physical accessibility. Participants generally agreed that support is provided to all students to overcome difficulties during the transition process from general education to university and during the study process, but that the support is not designed specifically for students with diverse needs. Because the number of students with diverse needs is low, support, for example, for students with disabilities is provided on a case-by-case basis, based more on the individual assistance of administrators, students, and academics than on the systematic and professional support that could be provided at the institutional level. Finally, none of the administrative staff or academics had received training on how to address student’s diversity.
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