The IN-WORK project addresses the role of the university within its reference region as a driver for an inclusive culture, by developing and testing a model of intervention focused on relations between inside and outside the university, and engaging people involved. The project adopts the work-integrated learning method, which includes work-based learning (internships and traineeships) to support people with special needs to undertake meaningful learning experiences with the world of work.
The project work will be inside the university, to stimulate the use of work-integrated learning pedagogies in an inclusive way by teachers, also by means of online technologies, and outside the university, to promote a culture of inclusion through the involvement of business players in the learning design and development.
Several sources, among which Eurostat, confirm that the employment rate of people with special needs is persistently lagged behind. This result depends on many variables, from the type and the level of difficulty (disability, learning disorder, or emotional/behavioural difficulties), cultural and contextual factors, and a generalised resistance of the labour market to employ them. Resistance, according to previous research, often relates to stereotypes about possessed competences (therefore ability to perform the job), belief that it is more expensive to accommodate people in the workplace, fear of difficult management of the employee or difficulties for co-workers, law-related constraints on processes of hiring/dismissal, and sometimes lack of candidates. Several aspects can benefit from and perhaps be solved through reciprocal knowledge.
The second detected need is social integration in an overall sense, then human relations, also with peers, and participation in active life within the community. To some extent, this need also depends on the possibility of work that allows daily dialogue with place and people and supports a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy. However, social relations also depend on participation in lifelong learning, leisure, and other events of civil society.
Inclusion of people with special needs has been addressed by single universities for years: each European university has at today some programmes, or support services for people with special needs, mostly addressing disabilities or learning disorders. As well, national regulatory frameworks for supporting the target can vary and have different definitions of basic support and pathways of integration, e.g., in the school system. Additional differences and variations are contextual also within the same country, in relation to e.g., culture, economic status, labour market characteristics. To this complex scenario, universities react on an individual basis, following needs and opportunities, and in many cases, they could have reached their maximum expression according to their individual potential. The following step is to share with other institutions to learn from each other to be able to progress. In addition, single universities are also engaged to implement strategies at the European levels, such as the European Education Area, the alignment required under the Bologna Process, and the four priorities of the renewed EU agenda for higher education, which includes “making higher education widely accessible and more inclusive and increasing its societal outreach”. The higher education institution contribution at that level always requires transnational cooperation to be sustainable and effective: working with different countries allows to find joint solutions on common issues, to learn from others, and to reach higher levels of action, and, together, contribute to the cohesion policy of the European Union.
The project is designed according to the principles of Work Integrated Learning (WIL), which can be defined as a pedagogical practice that facilitates students’ learning through connecting or integrating experiences across academic and workplace contexts (Billett, 2009). WIL is suitable to address the identified needs, by including learning activities designed and carried out with labour market players and work-based learning experiences (internships and traineeships) which (a) connect the individual with the context and favour relations with the place; (b) support acquisition of employability skills; (c) favour social integration.
How will the IN-WORK project tackle the challenge?
To achieve these objectives, activities are designed to:
- increasing the links with the community toward short-term objectives (co-design of learning experiences) and medium-term objectives (spreading of inclusive culture);
- Supporting the idea that the university is an educational institution for all, not only for students, by working with stakeholders in co-design of extra-curricular activities and be also receiving institutions for traineeships of youths with special needs of the reference communities;
- Training internal staff to design, develop and implement WIL activities, to ensure integration of the methods into the regular work of the universities and ensure the sustainability of results;
- Validating the approach and the model of intervention through piloting in a regular semester of the academic year, understanding from real practice what works and re-design, if necessary, to answer the needs of the target group in the future.
The project is expected to have a remarkable shot-term impact in the organisations of the members of the consortium and the regional level in which they operate. The project action will run at university level by involving different faculties and the centralised or decentralised support services within the institutions; as previously said, the project is designed as integrated into the regular processes of the institutions to ensure sustainability of results.
Furthermore, the project activities are codesigned with the territory: the actions of outreach and stakeholder engagement are expected to have an impact both for individuals (youth with special needs), for organisations and civil society, as opportunities for community development and a shared commitment toward an inclusive culture. The first beneficiaries will be youths with special needs involved in the project action and in activities that will be maintained after the project end, then opportunities of increased social integration through learning and work.
The consortium members have as national and international targets mainly HEIs, policy makers and representatives of students and enterprises/associations/NGOs. For the type of action, a stronger short-term impact is expected on educational institutions outside the consortium, which will benefit directly from the results produced by the project, such as for example methodological handbooks, OERs and OEPs.
The project addresses, as primary target groups (direct beneficiaries):
- Higher education students
- Youths with special needs not enrolled in higher education
- Teachers, supervisors and support staff working at the University
- Social and/or health services dealing with special needs
- Business players (public and private companies and associations)
The project addresses, as a secondary group (indirect beneficiaries):
- Training institutions
- Upper secondary schools
- Labour market services dealing with work insertion of youths with special needs, where applicable
- Youth associations and NGOs
- Civil society