ICYMI: Designing Equitable, Accessible Education

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Wednesday, December 20, 2023
By Tricia Bisoux
Photo by iStock/cofotoisme
Stories from our archives feature initiatives and best practices that business schools have adopted to make education attainable for all.
  • Increasing global student mobility has led business schools worldwide to design more accessible outreach and support systems for students, particularly those from developing economies.
  • Many schools are tailoring programs to meet the needs of underrepresented populations in their own regions, from Indigenous people to first-generation students. 
  • In addition, programs are increasingly reducing educational barriers for students living with disabilities, offering accommodations such as greater access to remote learning and adaptive technologies to help those with hearing and sight impairments. 


Making education accessible to everyone—regardless of race, gender, location, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or physical ability—has become a growing priority for higher education institutions worldwide. But accessibility requires different approaches for different circumstances. Schools must not only create welcoming campus environments, but also design courses and services that meet the wide-ranging needs of individual students.

Throughout December, we have put the spotlight on equitable access in education. We have looked at how business schools are working to interest more women in accounting careers, creating a more inclusive educational environment, and designing education that’s accessible to students of diverse backgrounds.

In one article, we feature takeaways from a session at September’s annual conference of the European Association for International Education, where attendees discussed the challenges they face in reaching students in some parts of the Global South. In another, we share details about a fellowship program that provides financial and other support to refugees from global conflict zones.

But schools worldwide are solving the equitable access puzzle by applying a range of mindsets and best practices. In case you missed our past articles that share these strategies, we share them below:

Increasing Global Access

As student mobility increases, business schools are looking for ways to attract students from a range of countries, particularly those with developing economies. In the process, however, they must be deliberate about how they design their outreach and support systems. As Tim Mescon, AACSB’s former chief officer of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, puts it in a 2018 article, “students tend to migrate to where they are encouraged, embraced, and supported.”

Here are just two examples of initiatives we have highlighted that focus on reaching students in developing regions:

  • Since 2013, Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa has been running its Small Business Academy, which offers training to aspiring entrepreneurs from historically disadvantaged populations. So far, 400 participants have completed the program.
  • In 2018, the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor piloted a program called MENA–Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship (M2GATE). Through this program, the institute brought students at Michigan-based business schools together with students in the Middle East and North Africa region to work together on social entrepreneurship projects. The initiative not only introduced social entrepreneurship to the participants, but also taught them to bridge cultural differences.

Reaching Specific Populations

When schools look closely at their applicant and enrollment data, they often will find certain populations are underrepresented. These articles describe several initiatives and strategies that work to eliminate barriers for these student groups:

  • Smith School of Business at Queen’s University has created the Equity Diversity Inclusion Indigenization Internship Program (EDI3), a career development program open to individuals who are Indigenous, Black, racialized, female, or first-generation college students, or to those who have a disability or financial need. EDI3 participants take eight modules that help them hone their résumés and interviewing skills, prepare for internship and career opportunities, and pair them with mentors. The Smith School also has partnered with Spalyan Education Group, an Indigenous-owned training agency, to lower educational barriers for Indigenous learners. Through a specialized training program, the partners deliver education to all six Indigenous communities of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation in British Columbia.
  • The Sasin School of Management in Thailand works to make its community more accessible to specific stakeholder groups. During a session at AACSB’s 2023 Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Conference, a representative of school discussed how Sasin reached out to LGBTQ+ leaders to learn how to better support that community. The school also started an initiative called the TransTalent Project. In that initiative, Sasin created and promoted two videos—one featuring the accomplishments of transgender leaders, another noting the barriers that transgender individuals face in the workplace.
  • In a 2021 article, authors for Quinnipiac University and A&M University San Antonio point out that the pandemic lockdowns forced schools to ensure, perhaps for the first time, that all students had access to the internet and personal laptops. The lockdowns may be over, but the authors argue that some students still lack necessary technology to access course material. For example, the authors’ schools will continue to make sure students have necessary tools for learning. These include laptops; adaptive technologies suited to help those with hearing or sight impairments; or even virtual study abroad immersions for those who cannot travel because of health issues, family obligations, or financial limitations. “We are obligated,” they write, “to remove as many barriers to education as we can so that all of our learners can succeed.”

Accommodating All Abilities

Many talented students live with disabilities or learn differently because they are neurodivergent—but their success depends on whether they are provided appropriate accommodations to support their learning journeys. The articles below feature strategies for reducing barriers for this student population:

  • In a 2022 article, authors from the American University of Beirut (AUB) highlight how several business schools are supporting students with disabilities. AUB, for example, has opened an Accessible Education Office, and Loyola Marymount University has a Disability Support Services Office. In addition, HEC Paris assigns “medical referents” who work with specific students and ensure that those students receive the support they need, while the University of Huddersfield offers an assistive technology support service.
  • At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, three students living with short-term or long-term health issues surveyed their classmates to discover what accommodations they would find most helpful. Students asked for easier remote access to courses and better quality on course recordings. Respondents also wanted schools to hold town halls and conduct surveys to discover what students need and then train faculty on how to provide appropriate accommodations.
  • A 2022 report from the nonprofit Access to Success suggests more best practices that schools can adopt to support MBA students with disabilities. Some accommodations do come with a cost, such as speech-to-text and screen-reading software. But others are free or inexpensive to implement, such as providing students with additional time to complete assignments, allowing them to take breaks during long classes, and making course materials accessible before classes.

Putting Accessibility at the Forefront

One thing is clear: Making education accessible to everyone requires a deliberate effort. As the dean of Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business emphasizes in a 2021 article, “The key challenge in addressing inequities and disparities within your school, your region, or your community is that these imbalances have been institutionalized at fundamental levels.” For its part, the Robinson College created a three-step plan to design more equitable educational opportunities in its program. First, the school acknowledged that barriers exist, even if they might be inadvertent. Second, it gathered data to identify and understand those barriers. Finally, it used that data to design and implement interventions.

In a 2020 article, authors from Villanova University shared how their school went on a similar fact-finding mission. Its faculty and staff gathered data to discover what interventions and initiatives would best help bring more students to its programs.

To make their programs equitable and accessible, schools must first discover what barriers exist in their programs. Then, they can work to design initiatives and policies that either mitigate those barriers or eliminate them altogether. In that process, as Mescon says, schools will encourage, embrace, and support students of all backgrounds, histories, and abilities in their pursuit of higher education.

Tricia Bisoux
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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