CHARM-EU awarded for pioneering inclusivity in higher education

CHARM-EU awarded for pioneering inclusivity in higher education HU
The CHARM-EU Alliance has been recognised with the prestigious Zero Project 2024 Award for its commitment and work in fostering diversity and inclusivity in higher education.  We sat down with assistant professor Ágnes Sarolta Fazekas-Vinkovits from Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Needs Education, leader of CHARM-EU’s Inclusiveness Team to talk about the work and visions that led to the recognition.

The 2024 edition of the Zero Project Award selected 77 innovative solutions from an unprecedented 526 nominations coming from 97 countries. Submissions were evaluated based on their innovation, impact, and scalability in a multi-step process, including extensive peer review by experts from Zero Project's global and cross-sectoral network.

In your opinion, what were the key elements that contributed to this success?

First, I want to emphasise how thankful I am to all my colleagues who have contributed to meaningfully mainstream inclusion and diversity (not keeping them as just “buzzwords”) in the CHARM-EU organisational culture and overall operation. I must confess it has not always been easy. It is well known from research that historically, on a global scale, widening access and participation and working towards more inclusive education is still a new agenda in the global higher education governance. As a “test-bed” new university model, CHARM-EU has been offering an extraordinary opportunity to innovate and apply inclusion by design.

CHARM-EU stood out in the higher education category for its innovative approaches and tangible practices to create a more inclusive higher education environment. Inclusivity is one of the Core Values of the Alliance, aiming to enrich learning experiences and knowledge-creation processes, and foster an open, welcoming and safe atmosphere. Inclusion and diversity have been profoundly interwoven into the DNA of CHARM-EU and are promoted by actions such as inclusive design, responsiveness to needs, international mobility and transdisciplinary collaboration.

What are the principles and inclusion measures that you would highlight? 

Through our design, we seek to cater to the greatest extent of users with a proactive approach rather than taking a retrospective viewpoint. We can draw on best practices and influence new inclusive practices within our partner universities, “showing” how to implement inclusivity rather than just “telling” people what to do. How we interact with one another affects the integrity of CHARM-EU’s academic and workplace environments. We are experiencing enriching practices, knowledge and attitudes from individual to organisational levels across our partner universities to overall CHARM-EU organisational culture and operations as well as impact beyond.

Last but not least, creating space for active listening, accountability, and constant reflections on our organisational culture’s day-to-day operations, human relations, interactions, and risks are needed. So, with this background set, what is it we actually do? When we use the word “transforming” often, this starts with transforming mindsets to create the understanding that inclusiveness is everyone’s business – and within everyone’s power! Together, these steps – big and small – form the start of our holistic, inclusive journey within CHARM-EU. It’s exciting and challenging. From value-based approach to meaningful implementation: I should highlight, it is a non-exhaustive list. I recommend to access inclusion and diversity measures and actions via the CHARM-EU Website, Toolkit menu.

For the upcoming years, what are the strategies of CHARM-EU to further mainstream inclusion and diversity?

To keep it short, our objective is to strengthen and further develop the tremendous, transformative work, which has been started since 2019, that includes the following (non-exhaustive) goals:

  • to encompass all voices, apply the principle of “Nothing about us without us”;
  • to further strengthen the inclusion and diversity agenda in overall organisational strategy, governance, and operation;
  • to better measure impact and address accountability;
  • to work in an agile method where processes are further streamlined coherently with individuals’ well-being and mental health.

What do you think the award means for CHARM-EU and its work on inclusion? 

I hope that receiving this prestigious award will be a moment for celebration as well as a further call to action to strive for a more inclusive and diverse higher education for CHARM-EU and in general for the global higher education landscape. I hope it inspires individuals and stakeholders to become changemakers who meaningfully work in collaboration with individuals with lived experiences for a more inclusive education.