International Association of Universities

Building a worldwide higher education community


Equitable Access and Success in Higher Education has been one of IAU priority theme for the past five years. In 2008, the IAU General Conference adopted a new Policy Statement entitled Equitable Access and Success in Quality Higher Education (which has now been signed and endorsed by many university associations from around the world). Moving from statement to action, IAU has recently worked on a new project.


In responding to the multiple imperatives that drive our global knowledge-based economy and society, national governments recognize the need for high quality higher education for all. Preparing its citizens for the 21st century by sustaining or developing a globally competitive research/innovation base and raising employability skills are goals pursued by most, despite different national contexts. Gaining access to learning, and successful participation in higher education is becoming essential for all.

Against this backdrop, and noting a renewed sense of urgency, IAU adopted the issues of Equitable Access and Success in Higher Education as one if its priority themes during the 69th IAU Administrative Board Meeting (Alexandria, Egypt, November 12-15, 2005). It mandated an international Task Force of experts, to further the work on this topic. During the three following years, the IAU Secretariat and the Task Force worked jointly on the design of a new Policy Statement and, in 2008, the IAU General Conference adopted Equitable Access and Success in Quality Higher Education as the IAU latest Policy Statement. To learn more about the preparation of this Policy statement please click here.

2014/2015 - The IAU supports the GAPS initiative

Global Access to Postsecondary Education (GAPS) aims to bring together those from across sectors and countries to meet this global challenge via advocacy and action. It has 5 objectives:

  1. To make the evidence based case for increasing access to post-secondary education.
  2. To instigate the cultural transformation in organizations necessary to achieve our vision.
  3. To build a global network committed to increasing access to postsecondary education from the public, private, voluntary sectors and policymakers
  4. To place students and young people at the core of efforts to improve access to and success in postsecondary education.
  5. To initiate innovative exemplar projects supporting participation in postsecondary education which can be scaled up globally.

GAPS began in October 2013 at the first World Congress on Access to Postsecondary Education held in Montreal. Almost 250 people from nearly 40 countries around the world came together to explore the challenges associated with widening access to postsecondary education. GAPS is led by a consortium of organizations including the International Association of Universities, the Lumina Foundation and Educational Testing Service (ETS) from the USA, NEON (National Education Opportunities Network) in England and the ECHO Foundation from the Netherlands, and supported by the European Access Network (EAN). To learn more about this initiative please visit its website:

2013 - The IAU participated in two major initiatives

A. The first World Congress on Access to Postsecondary Education

Participants World Congress wshp With the approval of the Administrative Board, and using funds from the ISIC Award, the IAU issued an invitation to all institutional Members in Good Standing to come forward if they were interested in taking part in a similar exercise as in 2010, namely undertake a self-assessment and participate in an international workshop to share lessons learned and their experiences with others. The Call for Expressions of interest was issued in February 2013 and more than 65 IAU Members responded positively.

During the first stage, the selected institutions (10) used a revised version of the self-assessment tool and reported their findings to IAU. This second project helped IAU to test the validity and usefulness of the instrument in a variety of contexts. The IAU compiled the results and prepared a report on equitable access and success policies and programmes in this sample of HEIs.

The second stage of the project brought the representatives of the participating universities together for a half-day workshop where they compared and contrasted their experiences on specific themes related to equitable access and success in HE. This workshop was part of the programme of the first World Congress on Access to Postsecondary Education: Connected the Unconnected (7-10 October 2013, Montreal, QC, Canada - organized by the European Access Network (EAN). Through this IAU - EAN partnership, IAU Members were also able to take part of the Congress at reduced rates. The outcomes of the workshop discussion were also presented during the Congress. To access the report of this IAU project please click here.

B. Developing a multi-dimensional analysis of Romanian HEIs with a focus on access and social cohesion policies

A second activity within this priority theme was a project in Romania. The Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Funding (UEFISCDI) invited the Secretary General of IAU to coordinate a study on higher education policy on social cohesion both at state and at institutional level. This was part of the country’s recent higher education reforms which involved the development of a classification of HEIs and a ranking of study programs managed by UEFISCDI. The study in which IAU was involved was part of a large project to increase the capacity of public administration for evidence-based policy making: “Higher Education Evidence Based Policy Making: a necessary premise for progress in Romania”.
IAU was asked to work on two dimensions: internationalization of higher education and equity/social cohesion. It was agreed that two distinct working groups composed of Romanian and international experts would each focus on one of these two areas, both coordinated by IAU and supported by IAU and UEFISCDI staff.

The project methodology in both areas was the same and included workshops, policy analysis and case studies by 3-4 Romanian universities, site visits and a conference. In the case of equity and social cohesion, the IAU self-assessment instrument on equity in access and success was used by the selected Romanian universities, having been adapted to some extent to the Romanian context. The expected results of this initiative included an overview of Romanian institutional policy with regard to equity and social cohesion paying special attention to overarching trends or consistent omissions that could be addressed in policy recommendations; an analysis of Romanian national policy with regard to this area; and, based on the findings at both levels, a set of policy recommendations targeted at policy makers in public institutions, the National Ministry of Education and other agencies. A final conference, on equity and equality of chances was organized as a stakeholders’ consultation and dissemination event for this activity in November 2013.

IAU-identified experts included Jamil Salmi formerly of the World Bank who had worked with IAU on the pilot project mentioned-below, Mary Tupan-Wenno, President of the European Access Network (EAN) (the Netherlands), and Claudio Dondi, President SCIENTER (Italy). The project was coordinated by Eva Egron-Polak in collaboration with Élodie Boisfer.

2012 - ISIC 2012 Award

ISIC Award 2012 On 23 May 2012, the Association received the 2012 ISIC Award (see: recognition for its work to promote issues of widening participation and success in higher education which began with the statement mentioned above. The IAU received €20,000.00 to support the continuation of its work to reduce barriers to education opportunities.

2011 - IAU Annual international Conference: Strategies for Securing Equity in Access and Success in Higher Education

The IAU 2011 International Conference was hosted by Kenyatta University (KU) in Nairobi, Kenya from 14 to 16 November 2012. It examined the extent to which government and institutional policies and programs around the world seek and succeed in responding to the imperative of increasing equitable access and success in higher education. The goals are clear and easily stated. Achieving the objectives is far more complex and requires clarity of purpose, shared commitment, adequate resources and expertise and time.

To learn more about this conference, to glance through the programme and read some of the presentations, please click here.

2010 - IAU Pilot Project

Ten higher education institutions in Asia and the Americas joined the IAU pilot project on Equitable Access and Success in Quality Higher Education designed to learn more about and share lessons about institutional approaches to improving both entry and progression for students from under-represented groups.

Working in collaboration with members of its international Task Force, the IAU designed an Institutional Self-Assessment Instrument to enable institutions to examine their policies and programs for improving access and success for learners from usually marginalized groups. The questionnaire is also designed to help universities collect information and analyze their practices in this area. The ten pilot institutions are from ten different countries in the Americas and Asia and are quite diverse in profile. This pilot project received support from the World Bank. The results obtained allowed the IAU to produce a comparative review of access and success programs in the pilot universities.

Workshop participants On 18 and 19 November 2010, the International Association of Universities, the University of Arizona and The World Bank co-organized, with the support of Lumina Foundation (USA), a two-day workshop in Tucson (Arizona, USA) bringing together representatives of the universities involved in the IAU pilot project, as well as Members of the IAU Task Force and several other experts from the United States and the United Kingdom.

This workshop was designed to probe further the findings of the 10 universities which undertook a critical self-assessment of their policies and practices in regards with the issues of equitable access and success (retention). It also served as an opportunity for the participating HEIs to meet and learn from each other. How do institutions attract learners who are in one way or another marginalized in their nations? Who are these under-represented minorities? How do institutions assess their potential and how do they accompany these students’ progress were among some of the questions guiding the discussion over these two days.

The Workshop participants were Rectors, Vice Rectors, and senior leaders responsible for policy development in this area. They were also invited to critically review the Institutional Self-Assessment Instrument developed by IAU and applied by them in preparation for the Workshop. Testing this instrument among a highly diverse set of pilot universities was deemed a way to help IAU determine the potential for an even more generalized use of this tool around the globe.

Last but not least, this meeting was an opportunity for the IAU with its Task Force, partners and participating universities, to determine what next steps as well as other initiatives the Association could develop to pursue the ‘equitable access and success agenda’. A brief report of the workshop is also available.

If you would like to share information on Access and Success (upcoming conferences, articles, seminars, research papers, innovative policies, effective practices etc.) please contact:

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