17 December 2019

Reducing Inequality through Accessible and Inclusive Education

One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1,400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.

On the anniversary of the program launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The next school profiled in our anniversary series is Western Sydney University (Australia), hub for SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.   

Western Sydney is an Australian region undergoing rapid social, economic and ecological transitions and upheaval. It is home to a growing multicultural population and the hub for migration to Australia. WSU was founded with the requirement that the university must have a “particular regard to the need to contribute to the social, economic and intellectual life of Greater Western Sydney”, while also having a vision to be a university of national and global importance. Access to and participation in higher education is widely seen as way to reduce inequality and for more than 25 years, WSU has been committed to widening participation in and access to university education.

As a result, there has been a rise in the number of students from non-traditional backgrounds. Priority students include those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or with Aboriginal, Pacific Islander and Torres Strait Islanders origin and refugees and asylum seekers. The institution provides high-quality academic pathway programs, English language courses and proficiency testing. Almost 65% of WSU students are the first in their families to attend university.

The Badanami Centre for Indigenous Education has been offering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students a supportive and culturally appropriate learning environment that caters to their needs, thus contributing to the process of reconciliation. The university as a whole also offers academic programs tailored to these communities, focused on education and health sciences, taking into account their cultural backgrounds.  

The idea of these programs is to nurture teaching skills with a cultural perspective and increase the number of medical practitioners in these communities. As a result of these overall inclusivity efforts made by WSU, 2018 figures published by the Government of Australia showed that nationally WSU had the largest cohort of domestic students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and the greatest number of students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

The university hosts the Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development, which organizes the Asia-Pacific SDG Youth Challenge. In 2019 the youth challenge focused on SDG 10: Reduce Inequalities in and Among Countries, resulting in projects that included conferences and workshops, community cleanups, and technological and app innovations. In total, 10 individual youth-led sustainability projects were delivered across the globe from youth in America, Mexico, India, Malaysia, Australia and South Korea and they collectively engaged over 10,500 individuals.

In addition, the Centre has also promoted the “Our Place Our Voice” exhibition to highlight Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. The exhibition showcases sustainability initiatives from local communities, allowing them to tell their stories through their own photos and languages.

As Goal 10 calls to empower and promote the inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities, while reducing discrimination against them, WSU has taken some recent measures to consider precisely the needs of students and staff with disabilities. WSU included a Disability Representative in the Student Council, academic integration plans were developed for 1,580 students and, by the end of 2019, the university will have provided almost US$50,000 worth of equipment to staff with disabilities. WSU introduced assistive technology to 240 students with disabilities that impact their note taking skills, and the WSU Disability Collective has been advocating for their rights while partnering with local NGOs.

The Institute for Culture and Society, which researches transformations in culture and society in the context of contemporary global change, conducts ongoing research projects on the effects of transnational mobility on youth transitions, youth employment for culturally and linguistically diverse young people and mapping of the educational experiences of refugee students.

The Institute has diversity and globalization as one of its key research programs, aimed at exploring the impact of the “diversification of diversity” -people relating to more hybrid identities instead of single or unique ones, due to the shifting of diversity caused by globalization and phenomena like cultural adaptation and migration- investigating its implications for a range of issues such as education, housing and Indigenous policy. This research seeks to create understanding around social order, identities and relations and to lead to the better management of diversity and its impact on everyday life.

In 2019 the university announced its investment in two new research initiatives. The first, Transforming Early Education and Child Health, seeks to ensure that no child should have their potential limited by the settings into which they are born and live. The other, the Young and Resilient Research Centre, wants to strengthen the resilience of young people and their local communities, enabling them to participate fully in social and economic life. 

WSU celebrates the one-year anniversary of the UNAI SDG Hubs and looks forward to continuing to support the work of UNAI through research, learning, engagement and empowerment.

To learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs, including Western Sydney University, visit the United Nations Academic Impact SDG Hubs.