Indigeneity and Pathways through Higher Education in Mexico

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Education


The social and economic disadvantage faced by Indigenous groups represents a significant global policy challenge. The world's 310 million Indigenous peoples, who largely live in Official Development Assistance (ODA) countries, face a poverty rate that is estimated to be twice that of the non-Indigenous population, as well as poorer health and education outcomes, and a lack of recognition of their rights. In terms of addressing this policy challenge, many countries have developed pioneering social policies in health, welfare, employment, and more recently in higher education. Little is known about how innovations in higher education policy, including diversified forms of higher education provision, are affecting the social and economic development of Indigenous peoples, including the relative benefit of policies that seek to assimilate (by programmes of affirmative action) or separate Indigenous youth (into universities designed specifically for them). Underlying policy development, we can identify two competing discourses, a collectivising one on Indigenous knowledge and identities, and an individualising one of skills development and labour market entry. These both represent distinct values, politics, and methods, as well as real tensions in the needs of Indigenous peoples. This project stands at the conjunction of these discourses and will seek to critically question how different types of university impact on Indigenous groups both socially and instrumentally, through focussing on the Mexican case. Mexico represents the ideal internationally relevant case study given its pioneering role developing new kinds of university provision designed specifically for Indigenous groups ('intercultural universities'). We examine how the type of university attended impacts on Indigenous student experiences, skills/knowledge acquired, and identifications across different social domains. The proposal has been developed in partnership with the Mexican Ministry of Education, Indigenous community development NGOs, UNESCO, and the Mexican National Association for Universities and Higher Education.

The proposal brings together an international team of researchers in the field of Indigeneity from Universidad Veracruz with sociologists of education from UNAM (Mexico City) and University of Bath. In order to generate knowledge about the effect of attending different types of university, qualitative research will be carried out across 3 purposefully selected universities representing diversity of institutional type within Mexican higher education. Participant observation will be conducted within each institution, which will enable the identification of 60 Indigenous students to be tracked longitudinally over a 3-year period, following them as they progress through university and beyond. Taking this longitudinal approach, careful attention will be paid to continuity and change, as well as important differences based on university attended, in terms of their experiences, encounters, skills/knowledge acquired and aspirations for the future. To provide a more complete picture, perspectives will also be gained about the impact of university attended from 3 members of their social network situated across the social domains of their Indigenous 'community', peer-group and post-university destination (e.g. workplace). Working with Indigenous community development groups, and project partner in the Mexican Ministry of Education, as well as other influential partners in the fields of policy and practice, sustainable recommendations for policy and practice will be developed. The work is relevant to other developing country contexts facing similar challenges, and the potential for impact across these other countries will be maximised through our partnership with UNESCO.

Planned Impact

Through working with project partners to propose recommendations for policy and practice, as well as developing resources and activities (see pathways to impact), this project will have an impact on higher education experiences, skills acquisition, and the collective identities of Indigenous peoples. In the first month of the project, a workshop will be held in Mexico City to engage stakeholders in the project's aims, design, methods and planned outputs, with stakeholder group members (see pathways to impact) and a wider body of research users attending. There are 4 primary beneficiaries of the research:

1. Government policy-makers and international organisations
Findings from this research will help policy-makers in Mexico (and other ODA countries with significant Indigenous populations) to develop higher education system which ensure the educational development of Indigenous groups without harming their collective identities. Evidence will be generated to address key policy challenges, including the experiences of Indigenous youth across different types of universities, university to labour market transitions for Indigenous students, and understandings about how education policy and practice influences the collective identities of Indigenous communities. Whilst the project will be of most immediate benefit to the Mexican context, it will also provide a test case, and identification of a model, that UNESCO may subsequently adapt for use in other developing country contexts.

2. Universities and higher education bodies
Universities across Mexico, as well as bodies that represent them, will benefit from this research, especially given the increasing onus placed on them to ensure equality in access, experiences and outcomes for under-represented groups - including Indigenous peoples. Through the delivery of workshops, the research will help support universities to develop more inclusive forms of pedagogy, curricular and educational practices which enable Indigenous youth to develop important skills needed for their post-university destinations. Impact for universities will also be achieved through working with them to produce resources (online and print) that support higher education transitions for Indigenous youth.

3. Community development NGOs
The community development NGOs which deliver programmes and initiatives to support Indigenous groups will benefit from knowledge generated here about how the education system can enhance skills development and labour market outcomes. Three NGOs who work directly with Indigenous communities from across Mexico will be active participants in the research through membership of the stakeholder group (see pathways to impact). Our work will provide important knowledge about education and skills opportunities that are beneficial to Indigenous groups, as well as providing the insight about how these groups can best succeed in the education and training system.

4. Indigenous students and their wider communities
The project will lead to improvements in the experiences of Indigenous students in higher education through proposed recommendations for university policies and practices. It will likely have secondary impacts on the number of Indigenous youth transitioning to university, as well as having enhanced capacity to act as cultural brokers between Indigenous communities and wider society. It is also likely that the project will help universities understand the sorts of skills and knowledge Indigenous students require, and so positively impact on their career and employment destinations. Indigenous youth participating in the research will also themselves benefit from the opportunity to reflect on their education, sense of belonging and relationship with their wider communities. Impact will be achieved through involvement of Indigenous youths in the stakeholder group, production of resources, and community engagement activities.


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