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Beyond diversity: a broad view of inclusive higher education

Posted on January 15, 2020 in on ComeniusNetwerk.

Find original blog post on Comenius Netwerk. (In Dutch and English)

By Marjolein Deunk (RUG), Mieke Lopes Cardozo (UvA), and Chiel van der Veen (VU) on behalf of the Comenius Network, Saskia Bonjour (UvA) and Marieke van den Brink (RU).

Inclusiveness can mean something different for every student and lecturer. It is important to involve them in removing barriers in this respect. If higher education institutions are to become not only diverse but also truly inclusive, an intersectional approach to diversity is needed.

It’s Tuesday morning. A team of lecturers and the programme director are holding consultations. The theme of ‘diversity and inclusion’ is again on the agenda. Part of the team wants to broaden this theme, they want to create an inclusive learning environment where every staff member and student feels at home and seen. The lecturers have noticed that, in recent years, almost all the focus has been on gender diversity and, as far as they are concerned, that is too narrow a view.

During team meetings, the questions focus on how the curriculum can represent a diversity of perspectives, how education can be made accessible to students with a disability, and how diversity among lecturers and students can be increased. No transparent plan or answer results. Colleague A complains about how complicated ‘diversity and inclusiveness’ are and that she doesn’t know where to start. Colleague B is not looking forward to the lunch break, when no doubt colleague C will say again that we are going too far with all that focus on diversity and inclusion. The director is willing but doesn’t have the answer immediately – how do you make the institution truly inclusive?

Making colleges and universities more inclusive and diverse is indeed complex and wide-ranging. Inclusive higher education not only requires equal opportunities for male and female staff and students, but also attention to, for example, selection and recruitment of students and lecturers, representation of non-Western perspectives in education and the physical design and accessibility of buildings.

A rainbow flag is not enough

The diversity policy that many universities and colleges are currently pursuing is not enough. Measures are often restricted to more women or more students with a migrant background. Acknowledge the difference between diversity and inclusiveness and do not just aim for the former, as is still too often the case today. With diversity, there is only a composite group, with, for example, people from different social or cultural backgrounds. Whereas diversity is only about that variation in the group, inclusiveness is about everyone feeling at home in that group and being able to participate as a full member .

Inclusiveness is not only about boasting a high percentage of first-generation students, but also taking action if it turns out that this group has the highest drop-out rate. Inclusiveness is not only hanging out the rainbow flag, but also being critical of heteronormativity within the institution when LGBT lecturers and students indicate that they feel excluded. So diversity, no matter how broad it may be, is not enough. It is vital to make higher education inclusive too.

An intersectional view helps higher education institutions to look at inclusiveness in an integral and multidimensional way. ‘Intersectionality’ – a core concept in scientific research on inequality – refers to the interconnectedness of different forms of exclusion. This is because there are many elements that influence the social position of students and lecturers and the extent to which they perceive the institution as inclusive. This could lead, for example, to lecturers attributing too easily to cultural differences their rigid social dealings with students with autism in combination with a migrant background – while ignoring their needs.

Dialogue makes inclusiveness sustainable

This brings us to the director’s question: how? How do we make our higher education institutions more inclusive? The first step is to really listen to students and lecturers with different backgrounds and characteristics. How do they experience education or their workplace? When do they feel fully involved in the college or university? And at which times do they feel, without wanting to, ‘different’ or excluded? What small, everyday struggles do they experience? And what are the biggest obstacles for them? These questions should be the subject of an ongoing dialogue between all levels of the institution so that they can form the basis of any changes to the curriculum, any restructuring, any new appointments and any new policy measure. In this way, it will be possible to work stepwise towards the sustainable anchoring of inclusiveness in higher education.

Education and Youth Peacebuilding

Mieke Lopes Cardozo is a member of the Education and Policy Working Group of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) and member of the Advisory Group for Experts for the Progress Study on Youth Peace and Security (YPS), which has been formed in 2016 following the United Nations Security Council’s resolution 2250 to carry out a progress study on young people’s contributions to peace building processes and conflict resolution. In these joint functions and together with Prof. Giovanni Scotto, University of Florence and also a INEE Working Group member, she has developed a thematic paper on “Youth, Peacebuilding and the Role of Education” which is a collaborative INEE study to inform the Youth, Peace and Security Progress Study. In this paper, key debates and insights on the role of education for youth peace building agency are outlined with the objective to provide stimuli for the YPS Progress Study and, at the same time, to serve as a discussion piece for policy-makers, practitioners and scholars interested in the role of education in relation to YPS. The paper is available here and further dissemination will follow on and

Download the paper here

‘Education in Emergencies and Conflict: Bridging the humanitarian-development divide?’

MARCH 17, 2016

IS Academie Education and International Development (UvA) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (The Hague)

This research dissemination session focused on education in emergencies and conflict by discussing the humanitarian-development divide, including presentations by recently graduated students in International Development Studies and a panel discussion  by facilitated by Mieke Lopes Cardozo (University of Amsterdam) in which Christine Pirenne (head of Humanitarian department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Matilda Flemming (United Network of Young Peacebuilders) and Sabine de Jong (UNICEF NL) participated. Please find the programme of this IS Academie EID event here.

Students and staff from the University of Amsterdam, staff members of the Dutch Ministries, policy-makers, representatives of NGOs,academics and people interested in the field, came together to discuss, reflect on and learn about important current developments and ideas in the field of education in emergencies and conflict. For the master students, this was part of the course ‘Politics of Education, Conflict and Development’, taught by Dr. Mieke Lopes Cardozo at the MA International Development Studies of the University of Amsterdam.

 Presentations of (graduated) students

Four students that have recently graduated or are in the final stage of writing their master thesis at the UvA related to education in conflict situations, shared their interesting findings with the participants of the event. All their research activities included fieldwork, and relate to education in (post-) conflict contexts. Please find their posters below.

Katie Hodgkinson discussed the needs and challenges of young displaced people in contributing to positive change in Burma and the role of educational initiatives on the Thai-Burmese border in meeting these needs. She concluded that education on the border is crucial to improving lives of young people and enabling them to contribute to positive change in Myanmar. She recommended that continued donor support is needed and redistribution of funds needs careful consideration. Also, young people need historic and political knowledge, interaction with other ethnic groups and community change knowledge

Marco Gallo presented on a case study of the educational program for ex combatants in Bogotá, Colombia’. Marco reflected on how different actors conceive the relation between the educational program and integration and discussed views of different actors regarding the outcomes of the program.

The third presentation by Taru Niskanen focused on teacher agency and strategies in monastic schools in Mon state, Myanmar. Taru discussed motivations and aspirations of teachers in the monastic education system and aims to find out the strategies that these teachers adopt to cope with the social, cultural and structural working conditions of their working context.

Finally, Heleen Vis talked about how primary-aged schoolgirls in Burundi are coping with violence and how this behaviour challenges normative feminine values. She stressed that girls cope with these issues by, for example, seeking social support, support of religion and by trying to avoid various forms of/confrontations with violence. The conclusion was that these girls often do not challenge the normative femininity while coping with violence. Heleen recommended that should should pay more attention to responsibilities and expectations of both girls and boys, as girls are often blamed when they are violated while boys are not punished when using violence.

Panel discussion

After the poster presentation, a public panel discussion facilitated by Mieke Lopes Cardozo (University of Amsterdam) in which Christine Pirenne (head of Humanitarian department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Matilda Flemming (United Network of Young Peacebuilders) and Sabine de Jong (UNICEF NL) reflected on debates within the broader field of education, conflict and emergencies.

Specifically, they discussed the often mentioned “silos” of (longer-term) development and (more immediate) humanitarian approaches. These issues receive more attention due to crises lasting longer, which means that humanitarian aid has to respond in ways it has not responded so far. Finding ways to build bridges between these divides are therefore crucial. In order to re-imagine the divide between humanitarian aid and development, it was stated that there is a need to connect preventative and reactive responses, and to address (political) root causes of conflict. This also means working towards a ‘culture of peace’ instead of the absence of violence. In doing so, it was argued that it remains essential to take voices of  young people in the communities seriously and help build their capacities, skills and knowledge through education.

Furthermore, the discussion reflected on what the newly adapted concept of ‘resilience’ means to different international organizations and donors. It was stressed that the concept resilience is sometimes used as a means of ‘self-help’ and could therefore hide structural issues or root causes. This points to the caution required in using  the concept, acknowledging the need to move beyond the ‘status quo’ and rather work on a sustainable form of peacebuilding.

Network drinks and reception

During a network reception provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, students were given the opportunity to get to know a variety of people that worked either with NGOs or other civil society organizations that are related to children or education in post-conflict contexts. Students were able to orientate themselves in terms of possible internships, future career perspectives or new inputs for their thesis.


This day was organised by the IS Academie Education and International Development, in the context of the Master’s course ‘Politics of Education, Conflict, and International Development’, coordinated by Mieke Lopes Cardozo.

More information

For more information, send an e-mail to Mariëlle Le Mat (