YEREVAN, Armenia – From June 13 to 14, the American University of Armenia (AUA) hosted and participated in a two-day training within the framework of the Erasmus+ Inclusion Project.
The training began with welcoming remarks delivered by AUA Provost Dr. Randall Rhodes. In his remarks particularly underscored that promoting diversity at AUA is a prioritized principle of the University. “One of the main areas of interest is that we are trying to include students with multiple learning issues in order to introduce multiple learning strategies. We are trying to create the infrastructure and a network that will accommodate the needs of students who have physical as well as learning issues so they academically succeed at AUA.” he stated. The morning was then followed with a brief presentation of the activities carried out during the past months since the kick-off meeting of the project in December 2016. These included a country-specific literature review for Armenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as a review of students and staff surveys conducted earlier in the spring of 2017.
Unison NGO then presented the findings of the research of which was carried out by Armenian partners including the general analysis of school curriculum and textbooks in Armenia. They reported that there were a limited number of materials and sources in the field. Nevertheless, they determined that there were a very small number of people with disabilities enrolled in Armenian higher education institutions (HEIs), an essential gender gap, students with financial difficulties that made it difficult to pay tuition fees, and inaccessibility to HEIs in terms of building conditions.
The University of Roehampton (UoR) from the UK presented the overall results received from surveys conducted earlier in March at the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts (YSAFA) and AUA among students and staff.
From these findings, project participants recommended offering opportunities for students with disabilities to visit HEIs prior to applying as a part of a supportive transition culture, ensuring training for admissions committees on disability issues. They also recommended that they introduce an access officer to liaise between applicants and students with disabilities and teaching staff to arrange necessary support service.
Students from AUA, YSAFA, and the University of Tuzla and the University of Travnik in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH) raised the issues of inclusiveness at their institutions from a student perspective. They delivered a presentation on the current state of accessibility at their universities, issues that still need to be addressed, and recommendations regarding what should be done to further support underrepresented groups in Armenia and BiH. The need to address students with mental and physical disabilities was emphasized, as well as the need to clearly define the admission criteria for students from underrepresented groups.
UoR partners presented the practice of support to people with disabilities in the UK, after which workshop participants held small group discussions and shared their views regarding various questions. The questions addressed were about what steps can be taken to ensure students’ voices are being heard and incorporated into the process of developing a social dimension strategy at the university level and what can be done at each HEI to enhance data collection of students from underrepresented groups and their needs. Participants also discussed inclusive learning and teaching techniques, and how each HEI can better reach out to potential students from underrepresented groups.
The discussions were constructive and will result in the creation of institutional and national guidelines during next stage of implementation of the Inclusion project.
The cross-regional project consortium partners of the project are AUA, the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts (YSAFA), project coordinator, Unison NGO, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of RA (MLSA), and the Ministry of Education and Science of RA (MoES) as well as the University of Tuzla (UNTZ), University of Travnik (UNT), Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures (SMOC) from BiH. European partnering institutions include World University Service (WUS) and University of Graz (KFU) from Austria, UC Leuven-Limburg (UCLL) from Belgium.