BRIDGES

Building Inclusive Societies: Diversifying Knowledge and Tackling Discrimination through Civil Society Participation in Universities

Funded by Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships for higher education, Servicio Español para la Internacionalización de la Educación (SEPIE)

October 2019–July 2022

Project short description:

Higher Education (HE) plays a fundamental role in shaping our subjectivities and social relationships. HE curricula and pedagogies can reproduce discrimination; but they also have the potential to promote social inclusion. BRIDGES addresses how Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can tackle discrimination and promote social inclusion by building relationships with marginalised groups in civil society. To achieve these objectives, BRIDGES constitutes a strategic partnership between HEI and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) in 4 European countries (Spain, Germany, the UK, and Greece).

Affirming the role of the university as an institution that can promote social inclusion, BRIDGES seeks to strengthen its relationship to Civil Society Organisations. Specifically, by forging a strategic partnership between HEI and CSO for the transfer of innovative strategies and curricular development based on the latter’s generally undervalued, yet invaluable experience. The growing consensus that educators lack the appropriate training to successfully integrate newly-arrived migrants in HEI and the broader society inspires BRIDGES to address the lack of attention paid to democratic citizenship and human rights in HEI curricula by innovating tools to strengthen the competencies of future and current HEI educators. Specifically, BRIDGES draws on Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodologies to develop a range of materials geared at making HEI inclusive of socially marginalised groups, in particular EU citizens and residents with migration backgrounds, who encounter barriers due to intersecting discriminations based on ‘race’, ethnicity, language, religion, citizenship status, gender identity and expression, sexuality, class, age, and disability. In particular, BRIDGES uses the PAR methodology of Narrative Productions (NP), which consists in a horizontal co-production of knowledge involving researchers and research participants on an equitable basis. In practice, BRIDGES methodology will imply day to day collaboration of HEI and CSO in monthly Local Collaboration Sessions, as well as 4 Transnational Workshops in which the different nodes of the project will share their expertise and work in productive exchanges using the methodology of Narrative Productions. This in-presence work will be supported by a virtual interface (the BRIDGES Virtual Lab) that will support the project development and will facilitate the participation of those suffering from mobility restrictions.

As a result of the project, BRIDGES will produce 4 outcomes:

  1. BRIDGES Virtual Lab , the primary community engagement and project dissemination tool. The digital suite consists of two distinct elements: (1) Virtual meeting space and campus that takes advantage of existing ICT platforms and networks to support transnational collaboration of the partners and stakeholders. (2) Virtual repository that showcases project activities and outcomes, engages stakeholders to provide feedback and acts as a digital archive of the knowledge generated. 
  2. BRIDGES Toolkit on innovative strategies for dismantling structures of exclusion in HE curricula, which can be used by any instructor, in any field, at any EU higher education institution, but also cross-sectorally, by CSO and other institutions providing adult education programmes and staff trainings.
  3. BRIDGES Course “Inclusion Without Discrimination”, aimed at current and future HE instructors in the EU which, in turn, will benefit HEI future students. The course will be designed using participatory research methods adapted to curricular design and test-taught by HEI and CSO instructors during year 2 of the project (3 ECTS).
  4. 4.BRIDGES Monograph “Diversifying Knowledges, Building Inclusive Societies: Theories and Methods of Narrative Productions”. An open access monograph of narrative productions co- authored by the researchers in partner HEI and CSO working at the intersections of multiple marginalisations across the research sites. The monograph will include a methodological guide to narrative productions and participatory curriculum design, systematising the project’s own research and teaching processes.

In sum, BRIDGES will train educators to make their curricula more diverse and representative of European societies by including perspectives that emphasise the historical processes underpinning contemporary social exclusions. The open access intellectual outcomes (BRIDGES Toolkit, Course, and Monograph) as well as learning activities of BRIDGES underscore the significance of HEI in transforming unequal societies into cohesive ones. The project will develop innovative strategies in order to tackle indirect and direct discrimination in HEI in the partner countries, with an emphasis on curricular development and pedagogical methodology, which can then be transferred to other contexts both within the EU and internationally.

Coordinating partner:

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain)

Partner Organizations:

Sindillar: Sindicato Trabajadoras del Hogar y del Cuidado (Barcelona, Spain)

Institute of Sociology, Justus-Liebig Universität  (Giessen, Germany)

an.ge.kommen e.V. (Giessen, Germany)

University of Brighton (England)

United African Women Organization (Athens, Greece)

Feminist Autonomous Centre for Research (Athens, Greece)

Office of Displaced Designers (Lesvos, Greece) 

HE plays a fundamental role in shaping our subjectivities and social relationships (Peters, 2015: 643). HE curricula and pedagogies can reproduce discrimination; but they also have the potential to promote social inclusion (Peters, 2015; Gillborn, 2006; Leonardo, 2009). BRIDGES has two priorities: (1) tackling skills gaps and mismatches in HE by innovating concrete pedagogical tools and curricular materials pertaining to diversity, inclusion, and discrimination in contemporary European societies; and (2) building inclusive higher education systems by involving members of socially marginalised groups, represented by civil society organisations (CSO), in the process of curricular design and implementation.

The promotion of solidarity amongst members of civil society is arguably not best achieved in a top- down nor in a piecemeal manner, but rather through sustained cooperation, knowledge transfer and mobilisation in cross-sectoral partnerships, particularly between grassroots CSO that advocate for the inclusion of people with a migration background in European societies and key individuals with relevant expertise in HEI. (CSO are not-for-profit, voluntary entities formed by people in the social sphere that are separate from the state and the market, including community-based organisations [CBO] and nongovernmental organisations [NGO].) Moreover, cross-sectoral HEI-CSO collaborations should take place across the local, national, and European levels, particularly given the threats to European unity and solidarity in the wake of rising nationalism and Brexit. Despite these political developments, BRIDGES views the challenges of building inclusive HEI and societies optimistically, precisely because the project emphasises the perspective of the grassroots: through their daily struggles, CSO and their constituencies evince in practice the possibilities for social cohesion, intercultural understanding, and mutual support.

The European Council has elaborated a framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin in order to implement the principle of equal treatment (2000/43/EC). Indirect and direct discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in employment is prohibited (2000/78/EC), while equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in the labour market (2006/54/EC) and in private and public sector provision of services (2004/113/EC) must be ensured. Yet, discrimination remains a challenge, leading the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) to name integration as a priority for 2018-2022 (FRA, 2018). Recent reports by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) show that EU citizens and residents with a migration background continue to experience racial discrimination in the context of education (ENAR, 2017; 2018). Regarding the UK context, Carter, Fenton and Modood (1999: 56) identify a need for what they term an ‘institutional anti-racism’ which is still relevant across the partner organisations’ countries and the EU more generally. Central to this strategy is that HEI should adopt strategies from other sectors and review curricula to reflect diverse histories, achievements, and experiences of social groups subject to discrimination (Carter, Fenton and Modood, 1999: 57). More recently, Tate and Bagguley have argued that more work is needed “in order to develop a maximal, transformative approach to institutional change, rather than a minimal meeting of legal obligations in those countries where an anti-discrimination framework exists” (2017: 290). BRIDGES follows these policy recommendations in forging a strategic partnership between HEI and CSO for the transfer of innovative strategies and curricular development based on the latter’s generally undervalued, yet invaluable experience. To do so, BRIDGES draws on Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodologies to include socially marginalised groups, in particular EU citizens and residents with migration backgrounds, in the development of a range of materials geared at making HEI more inclusive. The social location of people with migration backgrounds at the intersection of multiple discriminations enables a simultaneous analysis of the various forms of exclusion that BRIDGES sets out to combat in and beyond higher level education: including, but not limited to ‘race,’ ethnicity, language, religion, citizenship, gender, sexuality, class, age, disability and additional vulnerabilities and obstacles to learning. In particular, BRIDGES addresses both indirect and direct discriminations at the institutional level, and interpersonal discriminations across and within lines of social power. To do so, it adopts an intersectional perspective that views human rights as indivisible and discriminations as interconnected (Truscan & Bourke-Martignoni, 2016).

BRIDGES addresses how HEI can tackle discrimination and promote social inclusion by building relationships with marginalised groups in civil society. The project has 2 main target groups: HEI educators/researchers and multiply marginalised migrants.

BRIDGES considers the role of the university in promoting social inclusion. BRIDGES shares these objectives and goes further to affirm that universities are not only promoters of inclusion, but the necessary target of inclusion and anti-discrimination measures. BRIDGES seeks to make HEI inclusive, for which anti-discrimination policies are necessary but not sufficient (Ahmed, 2012; Tate & Bagguley, 2016; Arday & Mirza, 2018). Discrimination is commonly understood as resulting from the behaviour of individuals. Yet, the two-fold definition of discrimination enshrined in European and international law demonstrates how institutions can indirectly discriminate against groups who have been excluded by design, but not necessarily by intent. Accordingly, BRIDGES intervenes in HEI to tackle discrimination in its indirect and direct forms. The persistence of indirect discrimination in HEI not only affects who has access to HE, but also what is taught, and how (Arday, 2019: 4). BRIDGES challenges the devaluation of knowers who face epistemic injustice (Fricker, 2007; Dotson, 2011). Affirming the role of the university as an institution that can promote social inclusion, BRIDGES seeks to strengthen its relationship to civil society, to the benefit of main target groups, and other stakeholders, such as future under-/post-graduate students, school/VET/adult teachers, practitioners and policymakers on local, national and European level. BRIDGES innovates methodologies through which discrimination in HEI curricular design and implementation can be remedied. Applying participatory action research (PAR) methods to curriculum design, BRIDGES establishes partnerships between HEI and CSO dealing with the challenges of social inclusion of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

The growing consensus that educators lack the appropriate training to successfully integrate newly- arrived migrants in HEI and the broader society (European Commission, 2017b) inspires BRIDGES to address the deficit in democratic citizenship and human rights in HEI curricula (Council of Europe, 2017). Understanding and combating discrimination requires skills “for promoting social cohesion, valuing diversity and handling differences and conflict” (Council of Europe, 2010: 14). Developing and testing “educational approaches and teaching methods which aim at learning to live together in a democratic and multicultural society” (Council of Europe, 2010: 14), BRIDGES will innovate tools to strengthen the competencies of HEI educators who will, in turn, have an impact on undergraduate/graduate students. It will thereby “provide learners with a broader cultural landscape” (Arday, 2019: 3), including perspectives that emphasise the historical processes underpinning contemporary social exclusions, and the significance of HEI in transforming unequal societies into cohesive ones (Gutiérrez Rodríguez, 2018; de Jong et al., 2017; Icaza Garza & Vázquez, 2017).

The objective of BRIDGES is to strengthen the capacity of HEI in tackling discrimination and fostering social inclusion. Specifically, it will:

(1) Strengthen transnational strategic partnerships between and amongst HEI and CSO.

(2) Generate transferable knowledge in order to develop and implement pedagogical competencies that combat discrimination.

(3) Develop innovative post-secondary curricular content (geared at current and future HE instructors) to promote the active role of HEI in fostering social inclusion.

(4) Build relationships between HEI and CSO that will promote values of equality, equity, intercultural awareness, and social inclusion in HEI and the broader society.

These objectives cannot be achieved without transnational collaboration. In a moment where European values are threatened by Euroscepticism and xenophobia, BRIDGES will create a common European response based on the ethics of solidarity and cooperation. By involving CSO dealing with challenges of mobility and integration into European societies, BRIDGES builds intra-national and transnational collaboration, intercultural awareness, and learning mobility in HEI across the EU. BRIDGES will create a strategic partnership between HEI and CSO in 4 European countries (Spain, Germany, the UK, and Greece), thus converging with the goal of forming a European Education Area by 2025 (European Commission, 2017a).

Sources:

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