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Structural barriers can often completely exclude certain segments of society from Higher Education. Such structural barriers can include admission tests which have an inherent social bias, requirements to attend lectures at times and places the students cannot access due to other commitments, or barriers due to the cost (including ancillary costs such as housing, etc) of Higher Education.

What Works

System-level structural barriers can be hard, expensive and time-consuming to dismantle completely, and often require policy change at governmental level. However, from a micro-innovation perspective it is often possible for actors much further down the line to create solutions which bypass the structural barriers, by neutralising their effects or finding ways to avoid them entirely.

Examples of systems successfully mitigating structural barriers include:

Successful implementation of interventions in this area often require:

Granular Information

To successfully design interventions which bypass barriers, an actor needs to specifically establish the causal link between the social factor, the barrier and the consequent educational disadvantage. For example, if an institution determined that students cannot attend certain lectures due to other commitments, they might address this issue in different ways if students:

  • work during lecture times
  • have childcare obligations
  • provide support for relatives
  • hold a leading position in the community

Designing appropriate interventions for each scenario requires collecting enough information to address it appropriately. Thus, in the first example above the barrier might be the timetable of the university in question, in the second and third it might be the lack of alternative support options for students’ dependents and in the fourth it might be the inability to apply for a sabbatical from studies.

Examples from Practice

  • VASVU organizes special admissions support for international students who would be able to gain access to Higher Education in their home countries, but are unable to do so in the Netherlands. Support may include administrative help, language lessons and other interventions. Properly targeting this support requires granular information about the students, which is collected through a detailed application process for the scheme including an enrolment examination.[/su_expand]

Creating alternate pathways to access and participation in education

In many cases, the best way to dealing with structural barriers is to create additional or alternative options for students who may be affected by them. Some notional examples may include:

  • if the admission system is known to discriminate students from certain backgrounds, create an alternative admission pathway for these students or mitigate the social bias by ‘training’ them for the exams
  • if restrictive timetables form a structural barrier, expand the use of distance education to introduce some elements of flexibility

Examples from Practice

  • The OER University addresses students who are not able to enrol in traditional universities due to geographic and financial disadvantage. To get around this problem, it has created a network of global universities who offer freely available course modules online. Students may take these modules from home, completely without fees, and are awarded credit by the participating institutions for completing the modules, all without the need to enrol at the participating institutions.
  • The Special Entry Access Scheme at Monash University augments the results of students’ entry exams, based on factors of disadvantage. Thus, for example students with a disability, from a lower socio-economic background, from a rural area, etc. would have their entry-grades increased by set multiples, which would then be considered as their ‘actual’ grade for purposes of admission. Repeated surveys show that the students who enter thanks to these augmented grades consistently perform better in subsequent examinations, then their peers who had originally outperformed them.

More Examples of What Works