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Marginalization of the Roma Community in Serbia: A Study of Disparities in Health, Housing, Employment, and Education

  • 14 Pages
  • Published On: 27-10-2023

Conclusion

The research was premised on the history of marginalisation that the members of the Roma community have experienced in Serbia. This marginalisation has been felt in the key areas of health, housing, employment and education, where members of the Roma community are seen to lag behind other communities, in terms of access and support. 28% of the Roma people have been found to have not completed their basic education, while 12.5% Roma people had no education at all. The situation is even worse for the Roma women, where the percentage of Roma women either with no education at all or with only primary education is 87.1%, compared to 77.2% of Roma men. Young Roma up to the age of 35 have the lowest level of education of all communities, with only 0.6% having a university degree or other form of tertiary qualification. This presents a dire outlook for the access to education and educational outcomes for the members of the Roma community.

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This is not limited to Serbia alone and indeed Roma communities across Europe are seen to be marginalised in these aspects. However, this research was based on the experiences of the Roma community in Serbia, in the context of access to higher education.

The main purpose of this research was to study the experiences of Roma community members’ in their educational journey. To that end, the research involved an empirical investigation into these experiences. The goal of such investigation was to hear the life stories of the members of Roma community and connect these experiences from their childhood to adulthood, for the purpose of identifying the common links in the educational experiences of individual members of the Roma community. The principal query was related to the level of success achieved by these individuals in accessing higher education in Serbia.

The research was conducted through the theoretical lens of postcolonial feminism. Focus was on intersectionality and the notion of voice as a matter of power in relations between domination and subordination. Intersectional approach as a concept emphasises the ways in which the different dimensions of social life cannot be separated out into isolated and individual strands. This approach allows for a multidimensional viewpoint on dimensions of social life. The study also investigated national and international initiatives and programmes related to accessing and supporting Roma as national minority in Serbian HE and interviews with Roma students about the impact of institutional, socio-cultural and economic aspects on their access to HE.

The main overarching research question that was posed in the research is: ‘How do Roma students as an ethnic minority, experience access in HE in Serbia?’ Three sub-questions were also formulated that were related to the main research question. These questions are: (1) How do national and international policies, strategies and interventions influence Roma students’ access to HE in Serbia?; (2) How do sociocultural and socioeconomic factors influence Roma students’ access to HE?; and (3) How do Roma Students’ aspirations and support structures facilitate their access to HE in Serbia?’

Current approaches to Roma education in Serbia have focused on actions such as funding, affirmative action policies, among others, as solutions to Roma access to HE. However important as these actions are to improving access to HE for Roma, there is need to consider how social factors intersect not only at the point of access to HE education but along a life course and how this inevitably affect access to HE. In other words, Widening participation should be broadened to consider barriers not only at HE level but how institutional racism and poverty impede Roma lives from childhood to adulthood. Therefore, policy focus should be at all levels of education and not just at HE.

Secondly, in the Serbian context, Roma students’ access to HE should be understood in a broader sense than just a physical entrance into HE (affirmative action). Rather, consideration should be given to the intersection of institutional attitudes, policies and practices, and how they act both as enablers and barriers. Consideration should be given to how poverty, racism, discrimination, sexism intersect in influencing the access in HE.

There is also need to consider the importance of widening participation of Roma students in Serbian education, for the benefit of Serbia’s and the EU’s economic development, social justice and stability.

Thesis Summary

Chapter 1 provided the context and rationale of the study. This chapter provided some factual and historical understanding of the Roma people and also gave an overview of the central issues related to the access to education for the Roma people, especially in the context of Serbia. The chapter contextualised the problem of the study and showed the significance of the study by presenting the issues related to Roma access to HE in Serbia.

The Roma people are considered to be the largest minority in Europe and have lived in the continent for over ten centuries. There are ten to twelve million people in Europe who are identified as belonging to the Roma ethnic culture, and the Roma people remain the largest, poorest and most marginalized minority in Europe. In Europe, the Roma people are concentrated more in the Central and Eastern Europe. The development of capitalism has also had an impact on the Roma community, which continues by and large to still be nomadic, but now Roma people are believed to following ‘service nomadism’, where they travel in search of temporary work. In that sense, the Western and Northern Europe has been more tolerant of the Roma nomadism, now also helped by capitalism. On the other hand, Eastern and Central Europe has seen less acceptance of the Roma nomadism and it is generally considered that the Roma people have been in a collective and hereditary enslavement.

The research demonstrates that in Serbia, some steps have been taken by the state, which may be seen to be for the benefit of the Roma people. Also of importance is the fact that Serbia being a member of the European Union (EU), has to ensure that there is no discrimination against communities. The Federal Law on the Protection of the Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities in 2002, recognized Roma as a minority for the first time, while earlier the Roma were barely considered to be part of Serbia’s national community. As part of the accession criteria to the European Union (EU), Serbia also had to adopt the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination in the Republic of Serbia. These are major changes and the study also considers how these changes impact the Roma community’s access to higher education in Serbia.

The Roma community has been traditionally made to face social exclusion. As education is of vital importance in combatting social exclusion, the issue becomes central to the Roma community. Historically, it is seen that the education received by Roma children in Serbia was of poor quality with very high dropout rates. The study finds that the EU membership did make it incumbent for Serbia to make laws and policies that would change the way Roma children accessed education in Serbia. Thus, in 2009 the Serbian Ministry of Education amended the Law on Foundations of the Education System in order to introduce a system whereby pedagogical assistants helped in the delivery of compulsory state-sector education to Roma children. The EU Council adopted a Decision on 18th February 2008 on the European Partnership with Serbia with explicit reference to the necessity of the economic and social integration of the Roma into mainstream Serbian society. Since 2008, the European Commission (EC) has been regularly reviewing the situation of Roma in Serbia, particularly from the point of view of social and educational exclusion and their findings are presented annually in a report.

Serbia declared the ‘Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015’, a regional initiative by the World Bank and the Open Society Foundation to bring together governments, non- governmental organizations and international agencies to close the economic and social distance between the Roma and the non-Roma populations in Central and Eastern Europe. Consequently, education, employment, health and housing sectors were the key priority for Serbia and it was also required to make action plans, as per which, the Ministry of Education adopted the Common Action Plan for Advancement of Roma Education in Serbia.

The responses to the Roma access to education and other key areas of social development have been made at the local, national and international levels. The Affirmative action policy is a national response by the Serbian government, which aims to increase access to HE for Roma students in Serbia by providing places in universities with without having to pay tuition.

Another national policy response was the 2010 Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of the Roma in Serbia, which was aimed at addressing the inclusion of Roma people in education, health and employment. It focused on defining the basis of Roma inclusion in Serbia, and the reduction in inequality between Roma and non-Roma. Transnational responses include the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) Report on Serbia and the 2010 appointment of Serbia’s Commissioner for the Promotion of Equality. However, despite these positive developments, the ECRI found substantial evidence of institutionalized discrimination in Serbia against many ethnic minorities including the Roma.

Chapter 2 detailed the theoretical framework of the study and reviews the literature related to the study. During the course of the research, there were many predominant themes that were identified in the literature. These themes concerned the socio and political contexts that are involved in Roma access to education and the widening participation (WP) of the Roma community; access to education as a concept within HE; relationship between poverty and education; and the role of institutional racism in perpetuating marginalization and limiting access to HE of marginalized groups. The chapter also considered important theories as a part of establishing the theoretical framework of the research, including Sen’s capability theory, post-colonial feminism and intersectionality. Intersectionality arose out of a critique of previous research on gender and race that had neglected the ways in which these two factors interact and it emphasises ‘multiple subordination’. For the present research, understanding the experiences of Roma needed to go beyond an approach to gender that is based on feminist epistemologies and methodologies developed in previous research on white, non-Roma women. The present research acknowledged the distinctive interplay of social factors that have shaped the lived experience of Roma subjects and have contributed to the historical and social ‘multiple subordination’ of this group.

The literature that was considered in the study was not limited to Serbia or even Europe. Studies from Canada and England, for example, were also discussed, as these provided useful insight into the issue of Roma exclusion, inclusion and access to education, both primary as well as secondary.

In Serbia, primary studies and secondary literature showed that Roma students are over represented in special needs schools. It was found that Roma children, even without learning disabilities are placed in special schools. Research also found that Roma are systematically exposed to poorer quality education because Roma people live in very impoverished communities and do not have access to adequate schools. Despite the declaration of the Decade of the Roma Inclusion in 2005, research in 2011 showed that there was less than 1% of Roma with a tertiary education diploma as opposed to national average of 16%. These details also served as important checkpoints to be considered when conducting interviews later in the research.

The literature and studies on Widening Participation (WP) was considered as this is the policy context in which access to HE is to occur. Research has shown that there is a shift towards ‘knowledge economy’ or ‘global knowledge economy’ as spoken of by Roberts (2009), where the shift towards knowledge is seen to be a key economic resource; but also marginalises those who are not a part of the knowledge pool. This can be related to the Roma as non-access to HE may also impede their access to WP. Research shows that within HE the concept of WP is highly controversial and complicated and that there is no single accepted definition of WP. That being said, within HE, WP is generally understood as an extension and attempt at improving access to HE of people from under-represented backgrounds. Here, WP is conceived as an enabler for marginalized groups to participate in and benefit from HE. Across the literature, there is a consensus on the point that WP acts as an enabler for HE and that WP improves and increases the access to HE of under-represented group of people by enabling such people to participate and benefit from HE. WP can also be considered to be a tool for raising awareness of the citizenship and reducing the social inequalities that may exist in the society. It is seen that within the discourse on WP, equality and equity have emerged as dominant themes within the literature. At the same time, research showed that for WP to make a difference there is need to go beyond the common discourse of the equality and equity and a need to consider the broader context and issues associated with people’s experiences of inequality and equity, such as, in the contexts of class, gender, ethnicity and other socio-economic and political contexts.

Literature related to the notion of ‘access’, was also considered in Chapter 2. For this purpose, the study disagreed with the notion of access as defined in the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (Lisbon Recognition Convention), which defined access as 'the right of qualified candidates to apply and to be considered for admission to higher education'. The study disagreed with this definition because it is based on meritocracy. The study argued that if access is granted based on merit alone, it would be assumed that all people have an equal starting point. In this case there is no consideration of the ways in which equality shapes people’s life chances and opportunities.

The present study found the definition of access given by the Council of Europe in its 1998 Recommendation on Access to Higher Education to be more appropriate, where access is defined as 'a policy that aims both at the widening of participation in higher education to all sections of society, and at ensuring that this participation is effective (that is, in conditions which ensure that personal effort will lead to successful completion).' This is appropriate because it focusses on social inclusion in the context of HE and also speaks of effective participation, that is, improvement in the educational outcomes. Access seen from this perspective would ensure that marginalised communities are given more attention from the perspective of inclusion into HE.

The literature and primary studies on the issue of access to HE in Serbia for the Roma showed an incongruence between policy and implementation. For instance, the Strategy for Improvement of the Status of Roma and its Action plan, places the system in Serbia for supporting Roma students and enhancing HE among Roma but the notion of Access in Serbia is more about physical access to HE through the policy of Affirmative Action (AM). Affirmative Measures were designed in 2003 by the Government of Serbia in order to help Roma students enroll into a first year of HE and faculties without paying for the fees but quotas were decreased over the years and conditions hardened making for many Roma students more instead of less difficult to access HE and maintain the AM support. AM is focusing on physical entry and outreach. Serbian WP policy is focusing on numbers of entering students. Therefore, there is access in terms of entry, but not in terms of completion and retention. Literature also highlights the interrelations between poverty and education, discrimination and access to HE, and institutional racism and its impact on access to HE. Intersectionality shows how the Roma have been historically considered to be the ‘internal others’ in Serbia. This has meant that rights discourse in Serbia has traditionally excluded Roma. For example, Serbian feminist movement beginning in the 1990s, largely ignored Roma women as the Serbian feminists did not include the Roma women in their ‘shared experiences’ of patriarchal oppression. Post-colonial feminism has accepted that experiences may be different in diverse social and ethnic settings. Ahmed’s (2012) work on policy and performativity was used in the chapter to show how even attempts to address discrimination via policies of attempting to achieve the equality such as affirmative action in Serbian context and practices of institutional racism, can easily become a way of trying to ‘keep face’ by the institution concerned to avoid further scrutiny.

The present study adopted the theoretical framework post-colonial feminism because that allowed the investigating of issues related to exclusion of Roma students in Serbian higher education and for the interrogation of issues of marginalization and exclusion that are faced by Roma students. Among these are the gender dimension, and the ways in which the interaction between patriarchy and the socio-political context, in which Roma students live, shapes the educational experiences of both male and female Roma students. Furthermore, using these postcolonial feminism perspectives provided grounds for exploring how socio-political institutions in Serbia, including higher education, maintain and perpetuate the marginalization of and discrimination against the Roma. This helped to bring about a more nuanced understanding of how racism, class, gender and ethnic oppression intersect with each other in the context of the Serbian Roma’s experience in accessing Serbian higher education.

Chapter 3 discussed the methodology used for the research. As the study used the post-colonial feminism context, this chapter also explains the theory and provides justifications for using this theory for studying the issue of marginalisation of the Roma in access to HE. The chapter demonstrates how the role of power and the need for adopting an intersectional perspective, both key aspects of post-colonial feminism, are crucial to the researcher’s understanding of marginalisation with respect to the Roma in Serbia.

Feminist research has emerged as an important area which is not just concerned with women or about gendered power relations, but rather it has been useful in exploring the experiences of myriad marginalised groups including disabled people, black and ethnic minority groups and in representing experiences of people of different sexual orientations and identities. This study postulates that feminist research creates new forms of knowledge not only about women’s experience of oppression but about the experiences of various marginalised groups, and it is often ‘engaged’ in research which foregrounds social justice issues, with the intention to make a social difference. This means that gaining knowledge by considering experiences of those who are oppressed by virtue of being different leads to deeper understanding of the issues that are important to not only to women, but also in particular groups that have experienced oppression, social exclusion, and socio-economic marginalisation. Thus, the present research aims to explore experiences of Roma students in higher education and provide a platform on which issues affecting Roma students in higher education in Serbia move from ‘the margins to the centre’ of policy debates and therefore, a key aim of this work, since feminists ask questions that place lived experiences of marginalised groups at the centre of social inquiries.

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An important aspect of the feminist research that has also been used to inform the present study, is the use of qualitative methods in exploring lived experiences of marginalised groups. In this research, the same methodology is used to make observations, subjectivity and situated in a broader context to inform the analysis of the experiences of Roma students in higher education in Serbia.

The interview technique has also been discussed at length in the Chapter 3, as this is the principal method used for collection of data. Also discussed is the notion of ‘giving voice’ to the marginalised groups. Giving voice adopts a postmodern perspective which focuses on subjective experiences, and consequently, ‘giving voice’ is mostly associated with research that is concerned with the experiences of oppressed or marginalised groups. At the same time, research has shown that giving voice is a highly contested method, because the detractors of this technique argue that it is not possible to give voice to someone else’s experiences. However, in the present study, the notion of giving voice was used to in reference to empowering people to be heard who might otherwise remain silent or who may have been silenced by others. For the purpose of this research, giving voice also meant giving space to others to speak out about their experiences. The research considered how giving voice could be complicated and considered the objections that have been posed by some writers to the notion of giving voice in research related to marginalised groups of people.

Another complication that was considered in context of this research was related to the question of belongingness’ to the communities being researched. This question has been discussed in qualitative research. Among the issues that arise regarding such ‘belonging’ is the question of whether researchers position themselves as insiders or outsiders or even both, and the implications these positions might have on the research process. There are many implications involved in being an ‘insider’ in a qualitative research. Some of these implications may include possibility of bias to participants or information; a shared experience feeling that may come in the way of the researcher getting complete information from the participant, as the researcher assumes he knows what the participant has to tell him, among other critiques. Insider research also has some advantages. For instance, being an insider provides researchers with rapid access and acceptance to the researched communities, which in turn makes the participants often more open to discuss certain issues they would otherwise be. This allows greater depth when collecting and analysing data. In the present research, being an insider gave the researcher an access to contacts and gatekeepers and also a sense of community feeling with the participants, who were more comfortable in opening up to the researcher due to these facts. Again, being a Roma woman who had received a western education and was living abroad, made the researcher an outsider in some ways, vis a vis other Roma women who were living in Serbia. Finally, being a woman, made the researcher an outsider with respect to the Roma male participants. Therefore, the researcher vacillated between the insider and outsider positions. The ‘space between’ was also used to connect in ‘sister-to-sister’ talks with young Roma women, while carefully not overstating the cultural similarity between the researcher and the participant.

Chapter 4 presented the findings about the impact of discrimination of Roma students in Higher Education in the context of Serbia. Using data gathered from life history interviews of Roma students in Serbia, this chapter was structured to answer the research sub question ‘How do experiences of discrimination and institutional racism affect student access and participation in higher education?’

In this research it was common for participants to talk about experiencing discrimination that was somehow part of the educational system that affected their experience and contributed to their struggle throughout the educational process including accessing higher education. They talked about experiences of systematic exclusion since their early education based on their skin colour, ethnicity and the effect on their experience of education and learning process.

In an interview I carried out with a Roma student, he cited that he was labelled by other children from the white race as “disabled” because he was Roma. Another participant within the research described an instance where a lecturer stereotyped her identity due to the colour of her skin. Interviews with participants showed how ethnicity and skin colour created definitions of the capabilities of students. One participant also spoke about his discomfort when the criminology professor kept on referring to Gypsies for exemplifying criminal events, such as theft. Using these examples from the participants, the research demonstrated how institutional racism does exist in the educational institutions in Serbia. Interviews demonstrated how Roma students were exposed to jokes about the Roma community and the feelings of embarrassment that they felt. The jokes were at times made in the classrooms with the professors present, showing how the acts and attitudes of racism are normalised in higher education institutions; not only from the professors but also from the peers. Institutional racism is not only looking beyond the direct, obvious attitudes of the institution regarding pre-existing value of the institution because the new agenda of promoting diversity does not change individual attitudes within the institution that is ignored by the institution, as is the act of others but not itself. Also it is difficult to hide the stereotypical attitude of the institution when differences become so physically obvious, for example skin colour. In the present study, it was interesting to see how issues of skin colour seemed to shape the participants’ identity and sense of self as could be seen in above quotes. Skin colour was usually the predominant theme in participants’ quotes. Many participants articulated views on their skin pigmentation having an impact on their experiences and specifically how they were treated in education. They talked of how experiences of racism led to a creation of a negative self-image, often associated with normalising the act of racism in which they accepted that their skin colour was problematic and thus lived what they called the guilt of being dark skinned. A majority of the participants felt that if they were white, they would have received much more favourable treatment and had easier access to opportunities.

Chapter 4 also highlighted the issue of peer harassment in institutional racism context. It is noteworthy that peer harassment is differentiated from general peer conflict because the former demonstrates an imbalance of power between offender and target, which is also relevant to the Roma students who come from a marginalised community. The participants in their interviews were also vocal about incidents of peer harassment that they had faced. Again, the colour of the skin becomes a predominant issue, with one participant identifying this to be the cause for harassment by his peers. Another participant recounted a different level of peer harassment on social networking site, where the non-Roma student wrote about how Roma were not humans. The difficulty that most of these students have faced is in their inability to challenge the harassment or fight back. In context of the present research, these interviews showed how being Roma placed these students in a position of disadvantage and made it difficult at times to continue going to school for education. Some participants recounted their desire to leave education altogether because of the peer harassment.

Chapter 4 also highlighted the issue of gender being a reason for double oppression for Roma girl students. Roma being a patriarchal community, women may at times be subjugated or relegated to secondary positions. In the context of the present study, this patriarchal oppression may manifest itself in more importance being given to education of boys as compared to girls. It may be considered that educating boys will help bring wealth into the family. In this study, the female participants talked of their struggles as girls in the education process. In the students’ accounts gender seemed to be another factor that shaped their higher education experiences. Participants spoke about how family support to study seemed to be more for males to study while females were expected to get married. In this, the Roma patriarchal culture was very evident as women are seen as homemakers and carers. Some of the female participants articulated the opposition to their education, sometimes by other older women in their family, such as a grandmother. The opposition was usually based on the fact that being girls, there was no point in their being too educated as they were going to get married someday and move to live with their husbands. Research showed that often Roma girls struggled to get education as many in their society would question the need for such an education. Added to that is the other burden, that of being Roma, that comes in the way as these girls would also face discrimination, peer harassment and institutional racism. Therefore, Roma girls carried a double burden for attainment of access to HE.

Finally, Chapter 4 also demonstrated how all these factors of racism, discrimination and peer harassment, eventually led to self-discrimination. Many of the participants made particular references to their skin colour while talking about their feelings of rejection, or depression, or exclusion because they were Roma. This led to some of the participants changing their course, or school or completely dropping out of the course. Participants also demonstrated a low self-esteem and a general feeling of being thought inferior because they were dark-skinned Roma.

Chapter 5 built on the issues raised in Chapter 4, to illustrate how poverty intersects with discrimination in impacting young Roma experiences and access to higher education (HE) from a feminist approach. This chapter used data from interviews with Roma students in Vojvodina, to demonstrate how poverty intersects with a broader socio-political and socio-economic context to impact on access in HE specifically for disadvantaged sections within the Roma community.

Poverty and discrimination have been seen to be interconnected concepts by many studies in the past. One aspect that was highlighted in Chapter 5 was that of legal invisibility of the Roma people. This is because there are many Roma whose identity is not legally recognised and that number is still unknown after their migration from Kosovo. The phenomenon has led to a de facto situation among the Roma and has presented a major difficulty for the minorities as they try to access government services and utilities. It therefore becomes difficult to conduct research that can highlight important issues related to the Roma and present the relevant quantified data that can lead to some credible findings.

In Serbia, discrimination has been rooted in even the most basic of processes such as civil registration, access to financial services and means, lack of information, as well as discrimination at higher administrative offices. The lack of a proper monitoring system on the expanse and quality of education among young Roma is an indicator of discriminatory practices in the Serbian administration. However, it is also important to note that the Serbian education system has been in recovery from a relatively challenging period that was highlighted chiefly by the lack of access to quality in most of its government-owned institutions especially among adolescents. Despite the affirmative action, it is evident that the actual practices are not aimed at increasing the access to HE for Roma students. As Chapter 2 of the thesis also demonstrated, only 4% of the Roma children go to the mandatory pre-school education, with a majority of those in attendance not making it past primary school. Also, the government has been reluctant to provide the resources necessary to ensure affirmative measures that will see the figures of young Roma enrolled in secondary and HE institutions rise. Hand in hand with the lack of access to HE, is seen the prevalence of poverty in the Roma community. It can be said that illiteracy rates amongst the Roma limit the access to life opportunities. Perpetual discrimination from a tender age propagates low achievement which establishes attitudes that are carried on into the future. Serbia’s educational system has not provided an enabling multicultural environment to foster the intellectual development of young children. At the same time, the over representation of Roma students in special schools can be seen as a form of segregation. Another factor that may impede the access to HE for Roma students is that the assessment system of the Serbian school system may be a discriminatory system for Roma achieving educational attainment, as the systems used to gauge student performance in Serbia are rooted in linguistic and cultural bias, which goes against the Roma students, as they are culturally and linguistically, a minority. In the Serbian education system, schools rarely recognize the Romani language as a component of multicultural diversity in the country. The poverty and marginalisation of the Roma people does not help to create more sympathy for their situation. On the contrary, the Roma in Serbia are treated with utter disdain and are considered unworthy of any support or respect, while other destitute non- Roma Serbians are perceived as human beings who should be supported and respected by the society and government. The systematic racism, including institutional racism has led to a situation where even the feeble efforts at Roma inclusion, hae failed to make their mark. The average length of schooling for Roma individuals in Serbia is 5.5 years in comparison with an average of 11 years in non-Roma populations in the same country, evidencing a major gaps in the access and attainment to HE for the Roma people, as most of them would not even qualify for HE as they have not finished school. The factors also responsible for the dropping out of the school have been discussed in the thesis, where racism, peer harassment and self-discrimination have been identified as some of the major causes for the Roma students dropping out of school.

Chapter 6 concerns the aspirations of the Roma students for HE. Post-colonial feminism continues to provide the theoretical framework for the chapter. This chapter is based on the premise that “raising the aspirations” of individuals from poorer backgrounds has been regarded as one of the best methods to increase participation in higher education to eliminate social exclusion among modern societies. The researcher understood that studying the inspirations and motivations of the Roma students is intricate and requires a complete understanding of the Roma society and the chapter explored the concept of multiculturalism and “happiness” among a community.

The aspirations of Roma students also have to be seen from a gender perspective because there are different social attitudes to Roma girls’ education within the families and communities. Therefore, developing aspirations towards HE for females has become relatively challenging.

The concept of social capital was also used by the research as a tenet comprising of familial, peer and institutional, structural influences which affect a student’s decisions after before and after admission into HE institutions. In the Roma community, low illiteracy rates reflect the degree of low educational achievement among the older populations in their younger school years. Low parental educational attainment, as a function of low SES has been investigated in the past few decades. Earlier research has demonstrated that families with parents of lower educational attainment were characterised by offspring with low educational aspirations. Conversely, where families have parents with higher educational attainment, offspring too have higher educational aspirations. In the present research, this was demonstrated by one of the participants, who wanted to study law, because she wanted to be like her mother, who has studied law as well. Inspiration and aspiration can also be provided by peers who are doing well educationally, as was reflected in another participant who studied law due to his studious girlfriend.

The chapter also considers aspirational capital defined as the ability to maintain dreams for the future in the face of present barriers. Some of the participants have recounted their experiences in educational attainment in the face of adversity. These adversities may be sexist for Roma women, and lack of money, or resources for Roma students of both genders.

Responding to the Research Questions


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