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Platform on Diversity, Inclusion and Equal opportunity – English

Adopted by the National Board of NSO at meeting 2, 2014/2015 on 30 November 2014.

Introduction

This platform presents the National Union of Students in Norway (NSO) policies regarding equal opportunity, inclusion and diversity – both before, during and after completion of higher education. The primary objective is to ensure inclusive recruitment to higher education and a broad diversity among students, as well as to define how the challenges associated with securing diversity within academia should be addressed. NSO believes that ensuring these principles will sometimes require the prioritisation of some groups before others. This must be done to provide for society’s needs, improve learning outcomes and ensure a broader recruitment to higher education that includes all groups within society.

NSO demands that everyone must have an equal right to higher education. The government has the primary responsibility for achieving this.

NSO defines equal opportunity to higher education as follows: everyone who fulfils the academic requirements for admission to higher education must be admitted, without regard for ethnicity, language, religion, philosophy of life, sexual orientation, disability, social background, gender identity or gender expression. NSO believes that various measures are necessary to achieve this aim.

Higher education is a way to ensure active participation in a democratic society. Therefore, the student population should reflect the population in general. NSO believes that ability and skills are spread evenly throughout the population. A diverse student population is beneficial, both for the student and working environment at higher education institutions.

NSO believes that Norway should be amongst the best in the world in terms of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity within academia.

1.0 Recruitment to higher education

The foundation for diversity in higher education is laid through recruitment.In order to achieve equality in academia, potential students must be given substantial and accurate information. Recruitment to higher education begins in kindergarten and primary school, continuing throughout secondary school and after graduation. Children need to experience different kinds of activities and receive reliable information about future educational opportunities and careers from an early age, if they are to make well-informed choices during their entire education.

1.1 Advising

NSO believes that competent advise prior to starting studies is key to counteracting the socio-economic and cultural differences which hinder access to higher education. There must be a greater investment in advisory services for potential students through increased government funding and focus on the development of expertise. Advise officers in primary and secondary schools, and in the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), play an important role in informing potential students about opportunities that are available to them. They must have insight into different courses of study, admission requirements, the demands of being a student, the accommodation of those with special needs, as well as career options. Advise officers need to have expertise in methodology in advicing, to best assist pupils in making choices regarding further education and careers. Both advisors and teachers in primary and secondary schools should know how the education system works and the different study paths that may be pursued.

Information about higher education should be incorporated into adult education.

1.2 Clarification of expectations

It is the responsibility of higher education institutions to explain to potential students what a programme of study entails, and what type of qualifications they will have acquired when they complete their studies. It is important that marketing materials are clear and give a realistic impression of the contents and demands of the programmes on offer. Higher education institutions must ensure that students know about their student and academic environment, through well-designed, accessible websites, opportunities to speak to advise officers at the institutions, adaptable approaches to daily life as a student, and by allowing people to visit the institutions.

1.3 Ethnicity

Measures should be taken in order to ensure broad recruitment of students from ethnic minorities. Information and guidance need to be tailored to the specific needs of this group, clearly presenting study options and providing motivation to apply to universities and university colleges. Information should be translated into the languages of the largest minority groups, making it easier for parents, pupils and schools to access this. Exchange programmes and course collaboration between higher education institutions and schools with ethnically-diverse pupils must be continued and expanded. Mentor schemes and academic role models are important to break down the myth that higher education is a privilege reserved for the ethnic Norwegian majority.

Exchange programmes and collaborative courses should have a special focus on increasing recruitment to the humanities and social sciences, in addition to shorter career paths such as teacher training and the health profession. Currently, a higher percentage of minority youth apply to courses for prestigious, well-paid professions. Candidates with a background from the social sciences and humanities have a greater opportunity to influence the public debate agenda and the development of welfare services and other public services. In teacher training and the health profession, ethnic diversity is extremely important, to help create good role models who reflect the diversity of the population. In an ethnically-diverse Norway, a range of perspectives is necessary to accurately reflect society and democratise the public sphere.

The lack of a social network and good Norwegian skills is an obstruction to both social contact and practical training. Higher education institutions need to address this by offering Norwegian courses, social activities such as language and cultural exchange, and a greater focus on inclusion during buddy weeks.

Many immigrants who have been educated abroad struggle to find employment relevant to their qualifications. NSO believes that the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) should have simpler approval processes for qualifications taken abroad. Degrees which have been completed abroad should, as a rule, be approved, unless NOKUT or the higher education institutions have strong professional reasons to object.

Efforts must be made to ensure that ethnic minorities in Norway are given the opportunity to participate in higher education, to promote and preserve the principle of equal opportunity.

1.4 Tools for diversity

NSO believes that quota schemes and extra points are useful tools which can help to ensure a broad diversity in higher education. Each case should be evaluated individually, and each scheme should be revued regurlarly. This work should form a part of NOKUT’s assurance systems.

1.5 Gender balance

NSO believes it should be a goal to achieve gender balance among the students in every course of study.

There are complex reasons for gender imbalance in some courses of study, which can vary over time and between different institutions, as well as internally within different departments at the same institution. NSO believes that different situations call for different solutions, and institutions must adopt measures which address the problem at hand. All measures for improving the gender balance should be approved by bodies with student representation.

Institutions that are fully or partially financed by the government must report on their efforts to achieve gender balance, detailing the cases they have investigated and the measures taken that have proved effective in their annual report to the Ministry of Education and Research. Where investigations may reveal that the reasons for gender imbalance lie outside of the institution, the Ministry has a responsibility for finding solutions and following up on these.

To achieve the goal of gender balance, NSO believes that every study programme should be evaluated annually to assess the gender balance situation. After evaluation, each programme should be sorted into one of the following three categories:

  1. Balanced: Both genders are represented by a minimum of 40% of the total number of students enrolled in a programme.
  2. Moderately imbalanced: One gender is represented by less than 40% but over 25% of the total number of students enrolled in a programme.
  3. Critically imbalanced: One gender is represented by less than 25% of the total number of students enrolled in a programme.

If a programme comes within the category ‘balanced,’ there is no requirement for the institution to carry out gender-based measures with regards to that specific programme.

If a programme is assessed as ‘moderately imbalanced’ or worse, the possible reasons for this need to be examined together with the students. On the basis of this examination, institutions must follow up with measures calculated to correct gender imbalance. If the programme is judged to be ‘moderately imbalanced’ or worse for three years, and lies within the category ‘critically imbalanced’ for at least one year, the institution is compelled to make a recruitment plan to attract a broader student mass. This plan may include recruitment campaigns directed especially at the gender that is underrepresented, the introduction of gender points and other quota-based measures, as well as adjusting the course progression plan and similar measures. If the programme is judged to be ‘critically imbalanced’ and remains so over a three-year period, then the termination of these measures must be evaluated.

Gender balance must be on the agenda of meetings between the Ministry and the institutions. If an institution fails to fulfil the requirements made to introduce gender-based measures over a three-year period, the Ministry is permitted to stop assigning new student places to the programmet that is judged ‘critically imbalanced,’ until the institution fulfils their obligation to follow up.

2.0 Higher education provision

To ensure that the study environment is agreeable to students, enabling them to maximise the opportunities provided by higher education, it is important to work systematically with equal opportunity measures directed at higher education.

2.1 Universal design

Services and infrastructure in higher education should be built upon the principle of universal design and accessibility. There must be an emphasis on universal design as a criteria of planning processes and submission of tenders. The higher education sector should set an example regarding universal design, helping Norway to reach the goal of nation-wide universal design by 2025.

2.2 Inclusive learning environment

It is the responsibility of higher education institutions to ensure that they have a wellfunctioning and inclusive learning and working environment. This can be achieved through good physical facilities, well-written information that reaches its target audience, inclusive admission practices and mentor schemes, and by giving funding to initiatives within the student environment and culture. Access to gender neutral toilets should be included as part of these good physical facilities. It is essential that information is also available in English, to promote and safeguard an inclusive learning and working environment.

All institutions must have a complaint system where instances of harassment, discrimination, victimisation, and undesirable sexual attention can be reported by both students and employees. These complaints should be followed up by a neutral party (ombudsman), and should be exempt from public disclosure. Institutions must ensure that students who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LGBT) do not find that their sexual identity becomes a target of negative focus during their studies.

All institutions must have an action plan devoted to the prevention of harassment, discrimination, victimisation or undesirable sexual attention. Furthermore, the task of handling complaints and looking after the victims must be allocated and followed up.

All employees need do know what tools for inclusion and special needs are available at the institution.

2.3 Advising and facilitating for special needs

It is the responsibility of the institution to ensure accessibility for all students, including those with special needs. Institutions need to co-operate with student welfare organisations, municipalities and NAV to ensure this. Students who request counselling must be given this promptly. The National Centre for System and Services for Research and Studies (CERES) is responsible for registering students’ needs and make this information available to institutions. It should not be necessary for students with disabilities or chronic illnesses to document these more than once, with a doctor’s certificate or equivalent.

Employees at the institutions who work in advising and facilitation for special needs,  must have expertise in this field. They should co-operate closely, to ensure that students with a specific need get the sufficient advise and accommodation they are entitled to.

Tuition and course materials adapted to special needs are offered by the Norwegian Library of Talking Books and Braille (NLB) and higher education institutions. The NLB is obliged to offer accommodated material to all who require it.

NSO believes that institutions have a special responsibility to identify, support and follow-up students with special needs.

2.4 Religion and culture

NSO believes that the conditions must be in place to allow for both religious and cultural diversity in Norwegian higher education institutions. Students must feel sure that their cultural identities will be respected and have a natural place in the study environment.

Student associations’ arrangements and Buddy Weeks should be organised so that both students who drink alcohol and those who abstain can participate, preventing culture or religion from being an obstacle to participation in student social life. Pressure from students or employees to drink alcohol or use other narcotic substances should be treated as a form of harassment.

All student cafes should offer food which caters to those with special dietary requirements, whether religious or medical.

There must be places for religious practices at all higher education institutions. These should be open and free to all, regardless of religion or philosophy of life. Everyone should be able to wear religious garments and symbols, providing they are not a hindrance to tuition or practical training. There must be good reasons for banning garments or symbols. The board of the institution must have the authority to overrule a ban of this nature. In the programme information it must be clearly stated in advance if clothing that completely covers the body creates a hindrance in any courses.

2.5 Social and economic background

Social and economic factors influence how and if students choose higher education. It is therefore an important principle for NSO that academia works to prevent the reproduction and growth of social differences. The primary aim of the social dimension is made clear in the Student Grants and Loans Act. Grants and loans must be sufficient to cover students’ actual expenses so that everyone has a real chance to study full time.

NSO adds two further basic principles to the student grants and loans scheme:

  1. Students must not need to be dependent upon financial support from parents or others.
  2. Student grants and loans must be universally accessible, should not be subject to means testing, and must be completely independent of a student’s social background.

NSO defines social background as the social class or socio-economic group to which a student’s parents belong. Today, there is a clear connection between social background and the decision to take higher education. At the same time, the childhood environment also plays a role. NSO believes that institutions should have a regional responsibility for ensuring broad recruitment from all social groups within the region.

2.6 Safeguarding the rights of students

The rights of students must be protected through the establishment of thorough routines and quality assurance practices. Students must have access to an independent student ombudsman and be protected by their own Learning Environment Act (Universitets-, og Høgskoleloven).

2.7 Student drop-out

The Ministry of Education and Research must fund research on the reasons why higher education students drops out before completion, and make the results of this research available. Specific measures designed to prevent students from dropping out should be based upon this research.

2.8 Student mobility

The government and the institutions must ensure the mobility of their students and employees. This applies both in Norway and abroad. All students must be able to participate in studies at other institutions regardless of their special needs.

2.9 Requisite funding

NSO believes that the requisite funding required to study full-time should be available to everyone. This must be achieved by increasing student grants. Extra grants must be offered to particularly vulnerable groups before the full-time student can become a reality. It is essential to protect students who do not have the opportunity to take on an extra job, allowing them the necessary funds to carry out a higher education. The existing schemes offered by the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund must be revised with this aim in mind.

3.0 Employment after completion of higher education

A holistic view of equal opportunity in higher education is necessary to meet society’s labour needs.

3.1 From student to employment in academia

Diversity among the academic staff at institutions is important. NSO believes that breadth in appointments should secure this aim. Appointment processes must be open and orderly. NSO believes that the moderate use of affirmative action should be allowed to ensure the same diversity among academic staff as there is among students.

The institution should assess each campus or department (whichever is most appropriate) to evaluate the gender balance of the staff. They should use the same system which is used to evaluate the student mass (as described on pages 5 – 6), for evaluating the degree of gender balance. The results will indicate whether measures are needed to secure gender balance in staff appointments, and if so, these should be carried out.

Research and teaching positions must be organised in a manner that allows both men and women to combine work with parenting responsibilities.

In order to make career paths in academia more secure and predictable, it is necessary to reduce the number of temporary positions, and subsequently increase the number of permanent appointments.

What is emphasised in appointment and promotion processes is important in the perspective of equal opportunity. The emphasis on publication of academic work in academia compromises equal opportunity. NSO believes that appointments in universities and university colleges should place more emphasis on academic qualifications and pedagogical skills, and less on published work.

Appointment committees should be representative, with members of both genders and also, as far as possible, members from underrepresented groups. Students must be represented on appointment committees and should also be offered the opportunity to be present during interviews, both locally and centrally at the institution.

3.2 Wages and status

To ensure diversity in society and broad recruitment to professions which have a largely homogenous environment, one must put in place concrete measures.

There is a gender-divided employment market in which the gender wages gap is perpetual. It is essential for equal opportunity efforts in the employment market that jobs which require qualifications at the same level receive the same remuneration. The government must use its wages policy to raise the status of professions where higher education does not currently pay off.

Even though Norwegian women participate in paid employment almost to the same degree as men, women are employed to a greater degree in part-time positions and are influenced by traditional gender roles in their choice of career. NSO believes that the status of occupations typically held by women, must be elevated in order to widen the recruitment base.

Devaluation of women’s work is when work that is mainly carried out by women is systematically valued as worth less than work carried out by men. NSO believes that the government and the employment market must work actively to prevent this and safeguard the equal valuation of employment tasks.