Improving  inclusive  academic  success  and  attainment  is  an  important  priority  in  national  and  institutional  policy. Access to higher education only is not good enough. Successful programs in the IDEAS database often present  a  holistic  approach  where  different  angles  are  taken  into  account.  There  is  more  awareness  that  interventions should not only be focused on ‘changing’ students but should also focus in changing institutions. ECHO  took  this  notion  as  a  starting  point  in  developing  strategies  to  improve  attainment,  which  in  fact  was  more aimed at improving an inclusive and effective learning environment. In this vision two theoretical concepts are important: ‘the pedagogy of excellence’. Both concepts were inspired by existing practices of the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) of UCLA, which is one of the featured case studies identified as being successful within the IDEAS database.


Creating an effective and inclusive learning environment. Source: ECHO

In this conceptual framework, four levels of intervention are taken into account to develop an institutional strategy to improve attainment by creating an effective and inclusive learning environment:

• Organization & Management
• Students
• Faculty and Support Staff
• Curriculum

All levels need interventions to enhance a stimulating and effective learning environment but are also related to  each  other.  In  reality  an  institution  is  not  able  to  focus  on  all  levels at the same time because of lack of commitment, funding or capacity. In that case an institution should prioritize what is necessary in the course and aims of the institutional strategy. The experience in the Netherlands is that institutions put a lot effort on the  level  of  Organization & Management and Students. The aim is to embed all new interventions in the  mainstream structure and processes. Getting commitment of the executive board of an institution is often a first  step  since  management  has  to  agree  for  reasons  of  mission,  strategy  and  finance. For the sake of sustainability it is important to have the commitment on this level since the aim of changing the institution is a long-­‐term  process  with  funding  commitments and organizational implications as well.  The levels of intervention, which are often delayed or not taken into account, in the first place are the level of Curriculum and Faculty and Support Staff. Postponing interventions on the level of curriculum is often a matter of funding. Developing new curriculum and course content development is a costly process in terms of  staff  time  and  financing. The intervention level of Faculty and Support Staff is the most difficult and sensitive area to encounter. Working towards an inclusive  climate  is  implicitly  asking  a  change of attitude of professionals. A change that is inspired and stimulated by the awareness that the diversity of the student population is not a temporary  situation but the reality. Apart from that, current ways of lecturing,  coaching  etc., need further innovation given the changes in student population.

The motivation to change institutions is unfortunately not always stimulated by an increasing critical mass of diverse  students.  It  certainly  needs  a  vision,  a  mission  and  change  agents  apart  from  a  business  case.  Even  institutions in the urban area whose business case is clear, based on data of the racial attainment gap are not immediately inclined to change completely. There is a layered approach in this process. Having support from the  executive  boards  of  institutions  is  a  prerequisite.  From  a  strategic  perspective  everyone  agrees  to  the  importance of diversity for an organization. The challenge is more how this process will be implemented and who  will  lead  a  process  of  change  and  innovation  based  on  changes  in  society  and  changes  in  the  student  population. This is a holistic approach based on high expectations of all students, rather than on deficiencies (pedagogy of excellence). This approach is taking life stories into account that represents identity development of  individual  staff  and  students  to  develop  new  programs  for  students  and  professional  development  for  professionals (pedagogy of narratives). Quantitative results in the Netherlands showed that institutions that had  a  diversity  policy  in  combination  with  an  infrastructure  of  access  and  attainment  programs  were  more  successful in improving retention and attainment. This could be an institution inside or outside the urban areas. Investing in student support services, will improve attainment and a sense of belonging of students if the daily reality and identity of all students are taken into account and if students are addressed on their strengths and not on their deficiencies. Having high expectations of all students will positively influence student’s academic self-­‐confidence as well as their academic motivation and in the end lead to more attainment.


In the Netherlands the process of developing interventions and programs to improve inclusion and academic success of students institutions encountered a number of dilemmas. In developing and implementing inclusion policy  aimed  at  access  and  improving  academic  attainment  project  leaders  who  were  responsible  for  the  process of change within their institution faced a number of dilemmas

The dilemma of generic versus specific

Specific  policy  and  targeted  aims  often  evokes  resistance.  But  it  appears  that  only  generic  measures  are  ineffective. Institutions need a combination of both type of policy and practice to be able to serve accommodate all student.

The dilemma of commitment and support

Internal  commitment  and  support  is  a  key  condition  for  successful  change.  The  role  and  mandate  that  the  project leader has within an organization will be more effective if important stakeholders in the organization support new developments. Often the interests of different stakeholders are conflicting. The commitment of the executive board is not sufficient but necessary for funding and long-­‐term strategy. It’s most effective when there is top down as well as a bottom up process happening at the same time

The dilemma of the autonomy of the academic departments

There  is  great  autonomy  of  academic  staff  especially  at  research  universities  in  the  Netherlands.  Involving  faculty from the departments and the leadership of a department is often as important as having commitment of the executive board.

The dilemma of priority

To what extent do institutions see diversity policy as a priority is dependent of how diversity is vested within the organization. The more vested diversity at multiple levels within institutions, the better interventions will be embedded in mainstream processes, the more successful institutions. In the case of limited funding it will be a difficult to prioritize. Who’s interests are the first priority students, faculty, management of an institution?

The dilemma of continuity

The  continuity  of  the  acquired  knowledge  and  experience  would  ideally  require  another  separate  project  period. Since continuation is most unlikely it is important to include the long-­‐term strategy in the design of the project development to make sure that there will be commitment as well after a project is finished. Most of the projects should ideally be embedded in mainstream programs and processes.