A Social Welfare programme at the University of Patras, Greece, provides equal opportunities for learners from vulnerable social groups to enable them to complete their studies.
The programme was established in October 2018 as an outcome of the conference on Inclusive Education in Higher Education held at the University in 2016. The conference, which was supported by the Greek Ministry of Education, presented the European and international agenda for inclusive education and its principles. At the conference, Agency representatives presented the importance of inclusive legislation, policy and accessible information. Participants discussed examples of good practice at international and national level regarding accessibility of higher education to learners with disabilities. The conference inspired the University to initiate a programme to support these learners.
The resulting Social Welfare programme, EKO, which is co-funded by the European Social Fund, supports learners by offering a variety of services. These services aim to prevent and tackle difficulties that might interrupt their studies or stop them from integrating fully into the academic community. They include:
- psychological services, e.g. to assist with low self-esteem or anxiety;
- medical support and physiotherapy, e.g. to increase mobility;
- financial support, e.g. to help learners living in poverty to be able to complete their studies;
- career counselling;
- services for learners with special educational needs, e.g. specialist equipment for learners with mobility needs or texts in Braille.
Ensuring accessibility is an essential part of the programme. As such, a study of accessibility was carried out at various locations on the University campus. Development projects have been implemented following European and international accessibility guidelines and regulations.
In future, the programme aims to:
- enhance the accessibility of the University building infrastructures and universal accessibility to education technologies;
- support a larger number of learners;
- raise awareness of inclusion, disability and diversity within the University community;
- work with the wider community.
Higher education is directly linked to society and the labour market. By cultivating a culture that promotes inclusion, the programme aims to promote equality and non-discrimination in wider society.