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The role of National Agencies in promoting equal opportunities

Publication date: 11/11/2021

Mercedes Siles Molina

The director of ANECA, Mercedes Siles Molina, participated in the round table on quality, excellence and inclusion: quality labels, presenting the quality criteria for universities and the processes for improving quality and academic excellence. The table was organised as part of the International V Conference on Universities and Disability: Inclusion in the new higher education mode ., organised by the ONCE Foundation and the University of Salamanca, from 20th to 22nd October.

The table aimed to assess how inclusion policies affect the improvement of the quality of universities and the role of national agencies in promoting equal opportunities for the disabled. The table was attended by Félix García Lausín, Commissioner of the Ibero-American Knowledge Space (EIC) of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB) and, as moderator, Ana Capilla Casco, coordinator of Higher Education and Science of the Organisation of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI).
In her speech, the director of ANECA focused on explaining the quality criteria and parameters for an excellent university in the 21st century, how inclusion policies affect university quality, and guarantee equal opportunities for students with disabilities. In addition, she presented strategies to encourage inclusion policies, explaining how national agencies can help promote inclusion and equal opportunities for people with disabilities and finally, discussed the role of quality labels in promoting inclusion. Below is an excerpt from her speech on each of these issues:
WHAT ARE THE QUALITY CRITERIA AND PARAMETERS FOR AN EXCELLENT UNIVERSITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY?
A university is excellent when it excels in fulfilling its missions of

  1. Higher-level education,
  2. generation and transfer of knowledge,
  3. service to society.

Depending on the area, quality criteria and standards references include:

  1. the European Higher Education Area
  2. the European Research Area
  3. the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The excellence of a university can be approached from two perspectives: that of its staff and that of the university itself as an institution. These two approaches are closely connected. The quality of the staff depends on the quality of the institution, and the quality of the institution depends on the quality of its staff.
As far as ANECA is concerned, our quality model for teaching staff is based on three principles: teaching, research and transfer. The Agency is currently developing a comprehensive quality recognition model to help universities move towards excellence. This model, which we call RIC6, comprises 6 main principles: research, teaching, transfer, management, equity and sustainability. Each of these will involve 6 measures of quality, therefore, there will be 36 aspects in total for universities to address.
HOW DO INCLUSION POLICIES AFFECT UNIVERSITY QUALITY?
Excellence as an institution can only be achieved when quality is for everyone. A university that is not inclusive can never be excellent in its mission. Inclusion requires a strategic institutional approach, operational planning, human and material resources, and in short, a comprehensive policy that goes beyond the minimum.

HOW CAN WE GUARANTEE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IN AN EXCELLENT UNIVERSITY?
Within the comprehensive inclusion policy, to guarantee equal opportunities for students with disabilities, specific requirements should be met:
1. Ensuring minimum compliance with the current regulations and demonstrating commitment to excellence beyond minimum requirements
2. Focusing on all stages and needs:

  • to university admission,
  • scholarships and grants,
  • university facilities (accommodation, dining areas, etc.)
  • universal accessibility (face-to-face and virtual),
  • adapted curriculum,
  • attention to teaching-learning activities (classes, science laboratories, external internships, mobility programs, etc.),
  • extra-curricula activities (cultural, sports, leisure and free time),
  • career support, follow-up of graduates.

3. Continuous training and awareness.
4. Collaboration and coordination with the social agents involved (institutions and organisations).
5. Working with internal evaluation systems according to objectives and indicators, ensuring improved services are provided.
STRATEGIES TO ENCOURAGE INCLUSION POLICIES IN UNIVERSITIES
I would emphasise internal regulatory development to guarantee equal opportunities, in which ANECA's AUDIT and TEACHING programs can be useful, as well as external recognition, which also impacts the prestige of the university and its funding (public and private). Here, quality labels play a fundamental role in marking and guiding the way.
NATIONAL AGENCIES EFFORTS TO PROMOTE INCLUSION AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
These efforts include internal and external evaluation protocols of inclusion and equality (criteria, evidence, processes) and the consideration of inclusion in the evaluation, certification and accreditation processes for quality assurance. Along these lines is recognising specific criteria for certain situations that are difficult to comply with, such as maternity or paternity, leave of absence to care for children or dependent family members, gender-based violence, terrorist violence, and long-term sick leave.
QUALITY LABELS IN THE PROMOTION OF THE INCLUSION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
A quality label awarded by an internationally recognised quality assurance agency is conceived as the verification of achievement of excellence (certification), beyond the fulfilment of minimum requirements (accreditation), to generate trust in society. Public institutions and private entities must participate in these labels, participating in their configuration and providing incentives for their achievement. The labels must also contribute to promoting the internal quality of the institutions.