Creating Impact With Research and Outreach

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Monday, April 18, 2022
By Helen Collins, Patricia Jolliffe
Photo by iStock/Mintr
Liverpool John Moores University builds a community to improve educational and employment outcomes for the local Roma population.
  • The Roma are among the most marginalized people in the U.K., in part because of low educational attainment.
  • Research shows that collaboration among academics, NGOs, employers, and Roma individuals can create interventions that will engage the population.
  • The Roma Education Aspiration Project showcases the benefits of higher education through workshops, campus tours, and presentations by role models.

Marginalized communities face many challenges, and one of them is a poor rate of employment. Often, that poor employment statistic springs from the fact that these groups have low participation in further education or higher education.

In the United Kingdom, one of the most marginalized populations is the Roma community, which stands at 225,000 throughout the country according to current estimates by the Council of Europe. However, few accurate records exist about the Roma in the U.K. because, until the last census, they were not recognized as an ethnic classification.

Whatever their exact numbers, they have the worst outcomes of any migrant groups in the country. Only 10 percent of Roma attain stable work that lasts more than two years, and two-thirds have been refused work just because they’re Roma. Those who are employed tend to take the type of low-skilled work that David Ellerman has characterized as “dirty, dangerous, and difficult.”

To provide young members of the Roma population with better work opportunities, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) joined with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Granby Toxteth Development Trust a few years ago to create the Liverpool Roma Employability Network. The network brought together employers, organizations, and individuals to challenge discrimination and provide better employment opportunities.

But it quickly became clear that poor job prospects for the Roma were due in part to educational issues, including low aspiration and disrupted school attendance. Young people in this group tend to stay in kin groups and rarely pursue higher education. This is particularly troubling in Liverpool, because the city boasts three universities and a proud academic heritage in law, medicine, music, and the arts. Yet, historically, the Roma community has rarely accessed these educational opportunities.

Further, the wealth generated by these seats of learning has not benefited certain parts of the city, because Liverpool is the fourth most-deprived local authority in England. Ironically, the majority of the Roma reside in the two most deprived postcodes in England—despite the fact that these postcodes flank the sites of the main universities.

Research has shown that when there is a collaboration among a range of stakeholders, it is possible to devise sustainable pathways to higher education for marginalized communities. To raise aspirations and improve educational outcomes for the Roma in Liverpool, LJMU and Granby Toxteth worked with Roma participants to create the Roma Education Aspiration Project (REAP), which launched in 2018. The project was highlighted in AACSB’s 2021 Innovations That Inspire challenge.

Collaborative Interventions

REAP began with two main objectives: to have 60 percent of participating family members agree that education is a route to higher-value employment, and to have 35 percent of eligible participating young people pursue further education or higher education.

REAP organizers also realized it was essential to work with three sets of stakeholders. Those from the Roma population include role models, support workers, and students engaged in higher education. Those from the wider community consist of local NGOs and employers. Stakeholders from LJMU include academics from business, law, and education, as well as colleagues from outreach, recruitment, and skills support departments.

Research has shown that when there is a collaboration among a range of stakeholders, it is possible to devise sustainable pathways to higher education for marginalized communities.

Since REAP’s founding, we have been able to work with a contact who not only helped us get to know the community, but enabled us to test ideas about possible interventions by letting us know what might or might not be successful. By gaining such insights, we learned why repeated previous attempts to engage Roma students did not work as well as intended. For instance, in those attempts, organizations had failed to get to know the community in advance and did not bother to find out why the Roma community traditionally had been reluctant to aspire to higher education.

We also uncovered other methods that lead to better outcomes. These methods have included:

  • Bringing in role models and speakers from the Roma community who could discuss the advantages of education.
  • Developing and delivering a series of workshops—both aspiration and taster sessions—that exposed parents and young people to the benefits of education.
  • Training 19 Roma champions and support workers in the Motivational Interviewing approach, which encourages people to identify their own reasons and capacity for change.
  • Hosting REAP participants on a visit to LJMU and a local college, where LJMU students escorted small groups on tours.
  • Holding an Education and Employability Event for 100 Roma community members at LJMU. Students helped produce CVs for participants and connected individuals with appropriate organizations. Ninety-three percent of participants found the event useful for networking; one participant secured work.
  • Showcasing the lives of Roma youth via a production at the Everyman Theatre and Liverpool Cathedral. This production, which helped familiarize Liverpool’s wider community with aspects of Roma life, included dance, drama, and information about Roma history.

By the end of 2019, 80 percent of the REAP participants now agreed with the statement that education had value “as a route to increase income,” 20 percent above our initial goal. That message has been reinforced by the role models and members of the Roma community who have transformed their lives through education. While we do not have accurate data on how many eligible young Roma are now pursuing higher education, we do know the number of applicants is increasing.

In fact, one of the most exciting signs of success is that, after touring LJMU, a Roma student applied to the university, where she is now taking classes. She is believed to be the first Roma university student in Liverpool.

Insights Into Disadvantaged Communities

We believe that, to a large extent, our success can be credited to the relationship between LJMU and the local community, facilitated by the Granby Toxteth Development Trust. REAP has been built as a partnership between academic knowledge and community know-how—between research and outreach. Together we have disseminated knowledge and co-created interventions that respond to actual needs.

Because the REAP project is rooted in two entirely different cultures, perhaps it is not surprising that the process has involved compromise and sometimes a little conflict. However, we have developed a sustainable collaborative relationship by respecting the differences between us and relying on our shared interest in improving the lives of the Roma.

Much of the educational gap between marginalized students and their more privileged counterparts can be explained by the difference in grades that students earn in school. But there is little evidence about the impact early interventions can have on a learner’s life.

We believe the REAP model can be duplicated in cities throughout the U.K. to enable other members of the Roma population to benefit from higher education. In fact, the ongoing partnership already has widened to include other universities and professionals. It also now includes students from the Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, Showmen, and Boater communities.

We also hope that REAP will contribute to the conversation about how to encourage disadvantaged communities to pursue higher education. Broadly speaking, researchers know that much of the educational gap between these students and their more privileged counterparts can be explained by the difference in grades that students earn in school. But to date there is little evidence about the impact early interventions can have on a learner’s life. The question was examined in a 2020 report issued by the Education Policy Institute, a research organization that promotes high-quality education outcomes.

With REAP, we expect to generate additional insights about the success of such interventions. We’ve already received some recognition for our efforts:

  • In 2017, the British Academy asked institutions to outline what steps they had taken to integrate migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers into society. The Academy subsequently presented 10 case studies in a publication called “If you could do one thing…” LJMU’s Liverpool Business School’s work with the Roma community was recognized with an award from the organization.
  • The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government judged REAP to be highly successful in tackling Roma disadvantages and praised the program for its innovativeness in creating a partnership among the academic, community, and government sectors. This is significant because, in 2018 and 2019, the Ministry provided us with funding to launch the program.
  • We also have been awarded funding by the Global Challenges Research Fund to replicate the program in the Philippines and Syria. In these countries, the target populations are young women between the ages of 18 and 30. In Syria, they tend to be internal migrants displaced by war, and in the Philippines they are young women attending health clinics.

Invisible No More

For years, the local Roma community has been largely invisible. Through the Liverpool Roma Employability Network and REAP, the Liverpool Business School has taken a two-pronged approach to creating change. First, we raised awareness of the community through activities that involved both the Roma people and local stakeholders. Then, we created educational opportunities for the Roma people, which ultimately enabled them to seek a wider range of jobs and training opportunities.

We believe that REAP has ignited a subtle shift in the way the city regards its Roma population. It has also laid the foundations for a self-confident Roma community that appreciates the value of education.

Helen Collins
Senior Lecturer, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University
Patricia Jolliffe
Senior Lecturer, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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