November 27, 2015 Izidor Bjelopoljak

Improving the democratic character of higher education “Democratisering van het hoger onderwijs”

The project targets the underrepresented groups in society in large which are for several different reasons not able to participate in academia. It aims to facilitate the access for pupils of these groups. The project relies mainly in financial grounds.

Objectives of the Intervention

The Flemish Higher Education system has an open access policy. Everyone with a degree in secondary education willing/able to pay the entrance fee can become a student at a university or a university college. Low entrance fees are possible depending on the income of the student/his parents. Specific support (financial or other) can be obtained for students with insufficient means to pay for their studies. Nevertheless, it is clear that certain groups of the population are underrepresented in higher education, viewed in proportion to their presence in society at large, e.g. persons with a vulnerable socio-economic status (among them many people with a migrant background), persons with a disability and persons deciding at a later stage in life to try and get a higher education diploma.

In order to stimulate inflow and qualified outflow of these target group students, a number of measures are currently being taken or in the process of development:

  • extra weight is given to these students when the level of financial allowances for universities and university colleges are established by the Flemish government;
  • extra funding for universities and university colleges is provided by the government (Aanmoedigingsfonds) for institutions who sign up a contract with the government on the basis of specifically set goals regarding the target groups. The Flemish government will set general targets on national level. Higher education institutions will set institution specific targets that have to contribute to the national targets. The extra funding is awarded based on a mix of input and output indicators and will thus vary according to the results institutions come up with in the course of the years;
  • the right to reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, as well as the way they can take advantage of this right and the appeal procedure in case reasonable adjustments are refused by the institution, are explicitly referred to in higher education legislation;
  • a set of policy measures aimed at improving pupils choice process in the transition toward higher education is at this moment under consideration by policy makers.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The idea came through cooperation of higher education institutions and the government. Government has initiated these measures in order to stimulate access to higher education and ensure participation of various groups that regularly might face problems of accessing it and continuing the education.

It follows the needs of the local community and looks at integrating young people from various backgrounds into higher education.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Various groups that are underrepresented in higher education are considered as target groups. This gathers students with lower socio-economic background, migrants, disabled young people, persons deciding to enrol in higher education at a later stage in life, etc.

Project directly involves them through a set of tools for supporting access such as funding.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

The political support is at a very high level in this project since the government was the initiator of it. Focusing on greater access to higher education is one of governments goals, especially noticing problems that many groups are facing, as well as problems of integration into society.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

In order to stimulate inflow and qualified outflow of these target group students, a number of measures are currently being taken or in the process of development:

  • extra weight is given to these students when the level of financial allowances for universities and university colleges are established by the Flemish government;
  • extra funding for universities and university colleges is provided by the government (Aanmoedigingsfonds) for institutions who sign up a contract with the government on the basis of specifically set goals regarding the target groups. The Flemish government will set general targets on national level. Higher education institutions will set institution specific targets that have to contribute to the national targets. The extra funding is awarded based on a mix of input and output indicators and will thus vary according to the results institutions come up with in the course of the years;
  • the right to reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, as well as the way they can take advantage of this right and the appeal procedure in case reasonable adjustments are refused by the institution, are explicitly referred to in higher education legislation;
  • a set of policy measures aimed at improving pupils choice process in the transition toward higher education is at this moment under consideration by policy makers.

In order to stimulate the work on improvement of democratic character especially through financial support, Ghent University is proposing following financial support services/tools to students with insufficient means to pay for their studies.

On the official website of the University students can find an overview of all possible financial supports from the Flemish government and an overview of all possible costs related to their studies. Ghent University has even designed a tool that gives students the possibility to calculate all the possible costs related to their studies.

Costs

Each student who has no rights to the scholarship has to pay yearly 619,90 euros.  In case if the student is eligible for the full scholarship, then he/she pays only 103,90 euros a year. Books and needed materials cost approximately 335 euros for 2 semesters.

The Institution gives also an overview of other costs related to the studies as transport, accommodation, food and ICT software costs.

Concerning the transportation, student has a right to a reduced public transport pass (except train) for the price of 183 euros a year. Students needing a train pass can obtain the discount by using their student card.

Scholars obtain monthly 110 euros of reimbursement in case if they rent a room in the University home. The Institution publishes yearly a document including the estimation of all possible costs for students with or without scholarship.

Financial support

In practice, there are different possibilities of financial support for students. Except scholarships, students can apply for an interest-free loan.

The student has to start paying back this loan 2 years after graduation. The loan has to be fully paid back 5 years after the graduation.  This possibility is meant for those who have no rights to obtain grants or when the grant seems to be insufficient to cover all costs. Also in case if the parents refuse to finance studies for their child, student can apply for this loan.

Sometimes it happens that scholars receive their scholarship when the academic year is already started. In that case, scholar has a right to ask for a deposit before the academic year has been started.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

The project mostly relies on the governments support, especially considering that most of the tools are of a financial ground. Therefore, the project is ongoing as long as this issue keeps being one of the government’s priorities. Afterwards, it would be quite hard for institutions to raise themselves the money needed for the continuation of the initiative

Resources used in the initiative

The project is mostly based on the financial services, and is in biggest part funded by the Flemish government.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

The impact will be measured according to the increase of students from the target groups and the study success institutions obtain with the target group students. It's obvious that the real impact of the measures will only become clear after a number of years.

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