Support and Inclusion of students with disabilities at higher education institutions in Montenegro – SINC@HE


The project's content and methodology

The idea of inclusion is being discussed and put into practice the last two decades. But still nowadays students with disabilities face significant difficulties while studying in Higher Education Institutions. As research has indicated students with disabilities are less likely to complete their studies than students without disabilities. This could be either a result of academic failure because of lack of support or of withdrawal due to insufficient guidance when choosing a course. Mobility around university campus is stressed as an issue with a negative impact on students with disabilities, especially with visual impairment and physical disability. For example, some researchers underline that transforming a printed material to other formats is a great loss of time for students with visual impairments. Hence, all students with visual impairments require information on alternative formats to meet their specific needs but at the same time they face great difficulties in obtaining books and handouts in their preferred format. On the other hand, mobility around campus is recognized as an issue with stressful impact on students with disabilities. Students with disabilities should be able to move around campus on the same basis as students without disabilities. Access to the buildings for students with physical disability can be enhanced by the use of elevators, automatic doors, special signing and assistive technology.

HEIs still have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to become ‘accessible’ in every way for students who have disabilities. Besides that, Higher Education Institutions have to keep the teaching staff well informed and trained on the needs of students with disabilities. Teaching staff has to promote inclusion of students with disabilities to a class and to a course, without, however, excluding fully students without disabilities or disturbing the balance of the class. Teaching staff should be also informed on how to deal with students with disabilities (visual impairment, learning disabilities). It is possible that a tutor can cross the line and start treating a student with disabilities with pity or as someone who needs care rather than a student who has equally rights with all the other students. It is important for students who have a disability to feel that they are being treated equally. Otherwise they may hesitate to disclose their disability and lose the chance to inform the University of their Special Needs.

The proposed project took into consideration the problems and barriers that students with disabilities are facing in HEIs as they are presented in different European and national studies and researches. Aim of the SINC@HE project is to improve, develop and implement support and inclusion standards, guidelines and procedures of students with disabilities in HEIs in Montenegro. Those standards will assimilate the quality of inclusion of students with disabilities in EU HEIs and will be harmonized according to EU practices and policies. Developed standards would be incorporated into existing legal and sublegal acts at the national levels and at the HE institutional levels.

Considering the joint support given by the Ministry of Information society and Telecommunications, the Association of youth with disabilities of Montenegro, the Institute for Education and Rehabilitation of persons with hearing and speech disorders (Kotor) and The Slovenian Association of Disabled Students, as well as the readiness of the university institutions from all beneficiary countries, the major assumptions for improving the support and inclusion of students with disabilities in HEIs are established. This project application is building-up on cooperation amongst some of consortium members in the framework of Tempus. The joint effort of numerous and qualitative consortium members associated with high-quality EU partner institutions should guarantee the admirable and long lasting results. European academic partners University of Macerata (Italy), University of Macedonia (Greece), University of Warsaw (Poland) and Arcola Research (UK) will have a major role in transferring good practices from their experience on support and inclusion of students with disabilities to Montenegro. Their help will be vital since they will bring into the project their theoretical and practical experience in (a) defining support and inclusion, (b) improving regulatory university frameworks, (c) improving institutional capacities, (d) raising awareness and motivation on inclusive education, (e) increasing of prospective students with disabilities, and (f) developing special courses for teaching and training and for ICT based services and courses/modules.

Through the above mentioned help and cooperation we shall work on establishing the framework for improving the quality and relevance of inclusive education for students with disabilities in Montenegro. It will consider all the processes and activities implied in support and inclusion life-cycle, from design to delivery and evaluation. The results of the proposed project will give the chance to partners, students and academics in Montenegro to get highly important knowledge in support and inclusion of students with disabilities in their daily academic life. Long-term goal of the proposed project is to strengthen the open society values be combining best EU practices and policies. This goal is going to be indicated through University databases, registers at student advisory offices and reports of workshops and events.

As a precondition for sustainability of planned project results, a comprehensive training for relevant members of HE public and education authorities involved in SINC@HE from each beneficiary country will be provided. Since, the project aims to have a wide impact on the national improvement of the quality and relevance of inclusive education of students with disabilities at the very beginning project consortium will review and analyze EU and national practices and policies regarding inclusion of students with disabilities in HEIs. This review and analysis leads to the comparison of EU/national practices and policies for the inclusion of students with disabilities, which is the basis for the development of the proposed project since it gives important data. Since the proposed project is based on the cooperation of different institutions is vital to (a) analyze the legislative framework and human resources at partner institutions and (b) define institutional structure to support inclusion of students with disabilities before establishing support services. A prerequisite for the inclusion of students with disabilities is the training university staff. Thus, training activities are aimed for all stakeholders to get acquainted with necessary knowledge for improving the quality of support and inclusion of students with disabilities in Montenegro. We plan to train teaching staff and administrative staff who would act as multipliers for inclusion. The establishment of Student Advisory Offices at each partner university that will be responsible for counseling, guidance, tutoring, relationships and psychological support is one of the Specific Objectives of the proposed project.