Webinar Launch Research Report Inclusive Mobility 9 November 2020

On the 9th of November, the EPFIME research report was launched during a webinar 'Making mobility programmes more inclusive for students with disabilities' with an audience of more than 650 participants, hosted by the Support Centre Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO) and the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training. The webinar is part of the two-years EPFIME project, funded by the Erasmus+ programme under the call “KA3: Support to the implementation of EHEA reforms”, focusing specifically on the mobility of students with disabilities.

"Much of the information on the foreign exchange programmes is given via public talks without captioning, interpreters or video recordings, and questions are generally taken verbally or over the phone, which is inaccessible to me as a deaf person."

EPFIME respondent - Students

Valérie Van Hees, Coordinator of the Support Centre Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO) and Dominique Montagnese, Inclusive Mobility Expert, Support Centre Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO) presented the research report and recommendation and good pratice booklet based on survey data collection, focus groups and desk research, compiling feedback of 1,134 responses from students with disabilities, 114 higher education institutions and 23 ministries of Education across the European Higher Education Area.

The definition for ‘Inclusive Mobility’ followed in the research means "creating and ensuring adequate conditions to learn, work, or volunteer abroad for people with fewer opportunities, by addressing their diverse support needs. It is a needs-based approach to what the individual beneficiary needs to ensure a safe and exciting mobility period abroad. It is important to not generalise needs, needs are specific and the individualised aspect of it is highly important."

Some of the testimonials, key findings, good practices and recommendations were shared during the webinar:

  • Although students with disabilities are underrepresented in mobility programmes, they are very interested to study, train or volunteer abroad. Similarly to the general student population, the opportunity to live abroad, to improve and widen career prospects in the future, to expand social networks, and to learn different language practices and teaching methods are the main motivators for students with disabilities to take part in mobility.
  • Although more countries collect data, the definition of disabilities is so scattered among different countries and even within countries that it is difficult to compare. Countries do not systematically collect data on the participation in mobility programmes, and only 14% of the countries have set a target for the participation of students with disabilities in mobility programmes.
  • The information provision and promotion on mobility abroad for students with disabilities is lacking. Promotional campaigns are too broad, too limited and not inclusive. They do not reach students with disabilities who don’t feel targeted.
  • Students with disabilities, higher education institutions and national authorities report significant barriers in the application process and the portability of grants and support services abroad. In 62% of the countries, national grants and support services for students with disabilities are transportable abroad during an exchange programme.
  • 32% of students with disabilities did only disclose their disability to the home institution when going abroad. The reasons for not disclosing a disability vary: 39% of respondents indicated they were not asked, 34% did not think it was important, while 25% did not want to be labeled. when going abroad, 39% of respondents indicated they were not asked, 34% did not think it was important, while 25% did not want to be labeled.
  • Although the satisfaction regarding student housing is rather positive, students point out the lack of available information regarding the accessibility of the destination, transport, housing and campus, and the best places where to go socially. Students point also to more support with everyday life necessities (e.g. medical support, cooking, etc.).
  • The lack of awareness about the barriers, as well as the lack of communication and collaboration between different stakeholders, both inside and between organisations (departments of Ministries, inter-departments of higher education institutions, National Agencies for Erasmus+, etc.) are a barrier to supporting students with disabilities in mobility programmes effectively.

" The Erasmus+ National Agency instructs higher education institutions to give priority to students with special needs as long as they fulfill the selection criteria. It has also published leaflets in braille for distribution to Greek higher education institutions."

Good practice - Erasmus+ National Agency Greece

The speakers were joined by a panel of policy experts to share their points of view on the findings presented:

Elena Tegovska, Team leader for Higher Education, European Commission, DG EAC indicated that the European Commission will be working towards supporting universities to place Inclusion at the center of their mobilities. “Inclusion has been reinforced in the next Erasmus Charter for Higher Education, completed with an Inclusion Strategy for the Erasmus+ programme 2021-2027. Good practices as shown during this session, will be included to share among higher education institutions across Europe." Elena Tegovska focused on new measures that will be implemented such adding an extra field for universities in the inter-institutional agreements where they can indicate whether they have specific infrastructure and specific support services for students with disabilities.

Els Titeca, Counselor on Higher Education, Internationalisation and Europe at the Cabinet of Vice Prime Minister Ben Weyts, Flemish Minister of Education, reflected on the Flemish Ministry’s internationalisation strategy, called 'Brains on the Move':The Flemish Government strives for 33% of all outgoing mobile students to belong to underrepresented groups, among them students with disabilities. In our current mobility programmes, At least 25% of the Flemish outward mobility grants should be awarded to students from underrepresented groups. The implication is that, in order to use the full budget that is available for mobility actions, there have to be enough applications from students from underrepresented groups. So the opportunities for all mobile students and the opportunities for students of underrepresented groups are connected with each other. This compels higher education institutions to identify these groups of students and encourage them to apply for a mobility grant. As this strategy has been in place since 2013, Flanders has generated five years of comparable data on this issue, which is fairly unique in the European Higher Education Area. Statistics show that in the academic year 2018-19, 22% of all ‘initial mobile degrees’ are attributed to students from underrepresented groups. The strategy contains goals until 2020. So we will work on a new strategy for the future where we will use the lessons learned from the EPFIME project.”

The panel session was moderated by Magalie Soenen, Policy Officer, Flemish Ministry of Education and training, projector coordinator EPFIME who indicated that “The high interest of more than 600 participants shows there is a high interest to support students with disabilities to participate in mobilities.”

"Higher education institutions and national authorities should promote the added value of mobility to students with disabilities through targeted campaigns with inclusive resources (e.g. videos in sign language, videos with subtitles, brochures in braille, easy-to-read documents)."

Video Webinar with subtitles

More information

For more information about the EPFIME project, please visit the project’s website or contact the manager of the project at valerie.vanhees@siho.be.

drawing of key results

A nice visual representation of the webinar, done by participant Camille Bullot, Head of the Student Mobility Office at Université libre de Bruxelles