Using affirmative action in practice – You also have a chance! programme
„Thanks to the programme and the subsequent studies at the University of Economics, I had a chance to travel and get to know many people. The programme was an opportunity for me to study and find employment. It was a chance that made my life really better.“ (Ján)
We have been addressing the issue of minortiy education in the Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture (hereinafter CVEK) for a long time. Until recently, we have been working primarily in the field of elementary and secnodary school education. However, we are aware that it is important for our country to have Roma attaining higher education and contributing to the development of the society. At the same time, we know there are a lot of limitations in the area of promoting such education.
According to several surveys1, the educational level of Roma has been lower when compared to non-Roma for a long time. The UNDP study2 of 2007 says that only 0.2% of Roma have attained higher education. The amendment to the Antidiscrimination Act together with negative data on educational level of Roma led to the development of „You also have a chance!“ programme implemented by CVEK in cooperation with the University of Economics in Bratislava.
Legislative base of the programme
Affirmative action is defined by the Antidscrimination Act in its amendment of 2013.3 It is based on the idea that not everyone has equal opportunities to acquire an education or get a job. It is not the person’s fault or something they do, but it results from their affilliation to a disadvantaged group. Roma, women, migrants or people with health impairment can often be judged not based on their abilities, but according to what they look like or where they come from.
In case of Roma minority, the long-term exclusion from the society has resulted in such significant inequalities that Roma often do not have comparable secondary or higher education that would enable them to apply for certain job postions. Affirmative action is a tool to equalize opportunities and help overcome such ethnically determined inequalities.4
Affirmative action can be defined as measures focusing on the elimination of social or economic disadvantagement disproportionately affecting members of disadvantaged groups. Measures supporting interest of disadvantaged groups in employment, education, culture, health care and services are also understood to be affirmative action.
The aim of affirmative action is to reduce or eliminate inequalities and to achieve equality in access to employment, education, health care and housing via tialored preparation programmes for members of disadavnataged groups, as well as provision of information about such programmes or job and study opportunities.5 According to the Antidiscrimination Act, affirmative action can be taken if there is a provable inequality with a view to reducing or eliminating it. At the same time, the measures taken must be appropriate and necessary for achieving the goal. Data highlighting inequalities in the chosen area should be a part of justification for the use of affirmative action.6
CVEK, as well as the University of Economics, was aware of the unequal opportunities Roma students had in access to education. Roma students are frequently encouraged to focus on study fields giving them a chance for employment in the area of so called Roma issues (i.e. social work courses). In spite of the indisputable importance of such efforts, we believe it is crucial to provide access also to education enabling Roma students to find jobs in financially more lucrative fields. Roma can (and should) be successful also in other areas and become doctors, lawyers or economists. This idea was at the background of You also have a chance! programme.
What affirmative action have we taken?
The basic objective of the programme is to contribute to creating equal opportunities for attaining quality higher education in the field of economy. The programme, You also have a chance!, was shaped based on the qualitative research carried out by CVEK in 2013 – 2014. Within the research, several individual interviews and also focus groups were carried out with different actors (students of the University of Economics in Bratislava, Roma students from other universities and secondary schools, university teachers, and parents).
Next, the types of affirmative action to be taken were specified7:
- Measures aimed at supporting intereset in studying in accordance with Section 8 para. 1 b and c of the Antidiscrimination Act
Here, providing targeted information about You also have a chance! programme, as well as about studying at the University of Economics in Bratislava at relevant secondary schools proved to be important. We identified the relevant secondary schools based on the data from the Atlas of Roma Communities of 2013. They were general secondary schools, as well as secondary business schools and secondary vocational schools Roma students attended. After identifying the shcools, we directly approached their head teachers and school counsellors. We also cooperated with Trnava, Košice and Prešov self-governing regions, non-governmental organizations working with Roma youth and we communicated via social networks. At the same time, a short video about You also have a chance! programme was made.
- Targeted preperation courses in accordance with Section 8 para. 1c of the Antidiscrimination Act
As a part of this measure, we decided to organize free-of-charge courses preparing Roma applicants interested in studying at the University of Economics in Bratislava for the entrance examinations. The courses took place in Bratislava at weekends from January to June or to the date set for entrance examinations at the University of Economics.
„The programme gave me a chance to prepare for the entrance exams, which was really helpful. The notes I took in the preparation course proved useful also during the exam period.“ (Simona)
The key aspect of this measure lies in the fact that applicants for studies at the University of Economics must meet the requirements for admission, which means they must have secondary school education completed with A level exam and they must pass the entrance examination.
- Affirmative action during studies in accordance with Section 8, para. 1c of the Antidiscrimination Act
Admission to university does not automatically guarantee success at studying. We were aware that students needed support also during their studies. We provided support to them through coordinators or confidants from the University of Economics and also from CVEK. The coordinators or confidants provided information regarding the study and life at the University of Economics, as well as about possibilities to be granted a scholarship or opportunities for taking part in extra school activities.
Every year, the programme has several stages that have proved effective. The first stage takes place in November and December and focuses on providing information about the preparation courses and about You also have a chance! programme via social networks, Roma Educational Fund Slovakia and non-governmental organizations working with secondary school students. Students interested in studying at the University of Economics are then contacted by a CVEK coordinator who gives them more information and answers the students’ and their parents’ questions. At this stage, we conduct personal visists in the students’ families. The potential students and their parents perceive them very positively. They have a chance to ask questions and the presence of our coordinator reassures the family as the parents are often worried about their children going to a new and unfamiliar environemnt and they are also concerned about safety of their children in the capital city.
„The programme gave me courage to go and study in a city I didn’t know before but feels like second home to me now. Thanks to the study, I can continue meeting more and more fantastic people and have unforgettable experiences with them. I have also learned to rely on myself and be less dependent on my parents. But I cherish every moment spent with them when I’m at home.“ (Mária)
Due to the financial demands of the family visists, we are not able to have them every year, which means a loss of potential applicants.
The second stage is about the implementation of preparation courses and lasts from January to June. The preparation courses take place at CVEK offices in Bratislava at weekends. They are carried out by teachers from the University of Economics and they primarily tutor the students in maths, economics and foreign languages. The courses are free-of-charge for the applicants and CVEK also covers accommodation costs for them. The participants get reimbursed for travel expenses, but this is rarely the case as trains are free for students under 26 years of age.8 During this stage, the students apply for studies at the University of Economics. The CVEK coordinator and teachers from the University of Economics give them information about the studies and the courses they can choose from. At the end of this stage, the applicants take the entrance examinations.
The third stage of the programme starts in September and lasts throughout the academic year, simultaneously with the first and the second stage. During this stage, we give information about scholarships to students, we tutor them in selected subjects (e.g. math during the first few months of the studies) and provide overall support with the studies (e.g. we deal with issues related to accommodation, etc.).
We already have successful graduates
In the past five years, we have managed to prepare 14 successful applicants from different regions of Slovakia for the entrance examinations. To date, we have one gaduate in the field of engineering studies, six graduates in B.A. studies who continue studying in the engineering programme and four students of B.A. programme. Three students have terminated their studies.
Every year, we encounter various situations with the students we try to manage as effectively as possible. The situations range from finacial issues or loss of motivation to family issues. In all these situations, mutual trust is crucial. We had to create an environment making the students feel they could talk to the coordinator about all their problems and feelings and look for solutions together.
In one of the programme implmentation years, we approached a private secondary school teaching in Roma language in Kezmarok. Even though the students worked hard in the preparation course, they did not pass the entrance examinations. Out of the whole group, only one student passed, but she was eventually prevented from starting the studies due to her family situation. We have not done an in-depth survey into the reasons for the failed entrance examinations, but some of the students told us there were tasks, for example some of the maths tasks, they had not covered within their secondary school studies. This experience highlights the fact that it is important what school the students come from and what quality of education the school provides to them.
The number of Roma students who complete their secondary schools studies has been low in Slovakia for a long time. The number of participants in our programme also reflects the reality of secondary school education. However, we have been focusing on the applicants showing interest and determination (e.g. taking night trains from districts such as Bardejov or Michalovce) to go through the whole programme and prepare for the entrance examination. The education they have attained is primarily the result of their stamina and resolution.
Implementation of the programme’s activities requires funding. In its first year, You also have a chance! programme was carried out within the project Supporting the Equality of Opportunities for Roma generally and Romani Women through Temporary Equalizing Measurers (TEM) funded by the Fund for NGOs within EEA Finacial Mechanism 2009-2014. The fund was administered by Nadácia otvorenej spoločnosti – Open Society Foundation. Later, our programme was funded by ESET Foundation, U.S. Embassy Bratislava and the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities. However, the fact is that these grants can only cover the costs of preparation courses. The question is whether the number of students interested in the programme would be higher if we had enough funds to cover also expenses related to providing information about the programme in the regions and costs of personal meetings with the potential applicants and their families.
In the period of five years, a total of fourteen Roma students have completed You also have a chance! programme. Considering the reality of secondary education of Roma students, it is important to support individual students in their efforts to attain higher education in the field of economics. At the beginning of our programme, our goal was to break down stereotypes related to higher education of Roma. The University of Economics has always been regarded as a school placing heavy demands on students generally and as being unattainable to Roma students. The Roma graduates and students of the university are slowly breaking the stereotype down. Therefore, it is our ambition to continue the programme and contribute to this positive trend.
Implementation of affirmative action in the field of higher education could significantly change attitudes towards Roma in Slovakia. This tool could be a real chance for a better life particularly for students who do not have favourable financial and material background. We need more doctors, engineers, lawyers and scientists from Roma communities to gradually eliminate the prejudice and stereotypes about Roma. We believe that our programme can be an inspiration for other universities offering studies in these fields and that the programme can show them examples of using affirmative action for the benefit of the whole society.
- See studies carried out by UNDP, FRA, World Bank and other.
- Filadelfiová, J. at al. (2007), Report on the Living Conditions of Roma in Slovakia, UNDP, p. 63
- Government bill amending Act no. 365/2004 Coll. of law on equal treatment in some areas and on the protection against discrimination as amended (the Antidiscrimination Act). Parliamentary document 276, available at: https://www.nrsr.sk/web/Default.aspx?sid=zakony/cpt&ZakZborID=13&CisObdobia=6&ID=276
- Lajčáková, J. (2015), Adoption of Affirmative Action on the Grounds of Ethnicity, Nationality, Sex or Gender in Slovakia, Bratislava, CVEK, p. 7, available at: http://cvek.sk/prijimanie-docasnych-vyrovnavacich-opatreni-na-zaklade-etnicity-narodnosti-pohlavia-alebo-rodu-na-slovensku/
- Section 8a of Act no. 365/20014 Coll. of law on equal treatment in some areas and on the protection against discrimination as amended (the Antidiscrimination Act)
- Lajčáková, J. (2015), Adoption of Affirmative Action on the Grounds of Ethnicity, Nationality, Sex or Gender in Slovakia, Bratislava, CVEK, p. 30, available at: http://cvek.sk/prijimanie-docasnych-vyrovnavacich-opatreni-na-zaklade-etnicity-narodnosti-pohlavia-alebo-rodu-na-slovensku/
- Programme for Support of Roma Applicants for Studies at the Economic University in Bratislava. Strategic plan of 28.4.2014. CVEK.
- For more information see: https://www.zssk.sk/bezplatna-preprava/studenti/
Zuzana Havírová worked in CVEK in 2013-2015 on a project concerned with application of affirmative action among Roma high school students. She is the outhor of a 2015 qualitative research study “Branches of secondary vocational schools in marginalized Roma communities – a road to inclusion or exclusion of Roma youth?”. In 2015 she became a chairwoman of the Roma Advocacy and Research Institute in Skalica which focuses on education, community organizing and fight against Antigypsyism.