University of Sussex
Jovanovic, Tanja.pdf (2.96 MB)

Roma student access to higher education in Serbia: challenges and promises

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posted on 2023-06-09, 16:20 authored by Tanja Jovanovic
The Roma constitute the largest ethnic minority in Europe and have a long history of social immobility, marginalisation, exclusion and discrimination. Despite the many political attempts to address these issues, the Roma people in Serbia, as in other countries in the Central and Eastern Europe region, remain disadvantaged in key areas such as health, housing, employment and education. In terms of education today, Roma people remain highly under-represented at the higher education level throughout Serbia: only 2% of the total number of the Roma population ever attend higher education, and the number of Roma in Serbia with university degree only 0.7% (Serbian National Strategy for Roma Inclusion, 2016). More precisely, the participation of Roma in the student population is 16 times smaller than their Serbian peers (EQUIED, 2012). Regarding research on Serbian Roma education, there has been a lot of interest among academics in exploring how the Roma communities in Serbia fare in school-level education (e.g. Milivojevic, 2008). However, there has been little focus on Roma people’s experiences of access to higher education (Rakovic, 2009). My research is an attempt to fill this gap. The crucial issue of war and displacement aside, Serbia can serve as a case study informing policy and practice in the wider Central and Eastern European region. My doctoral dissertation presents findings in response to the following research question: ‘How do Roma students as an ethnic minority, succeed in accessing higher education in Serbia?’ My research employs an intersectional, postcolonial feminist theoretical approach, and a qualitative life history methodological approach. The rationale for this is that patriarchal oppression within Roma communities intersects with institutionalised anti-Roma racism to create a multidimensional modality of oppression for Roma women and men. Marginalisation and loss of voice affecting the Roma also make this approach relevant, as does the status of the Roma as a ‘colonised’ people in the wider Serbian society. My qualitative research involves 10 life history interviews to explore Roma students’ lived experiences and 5 semi-structured interviews with Roma activists, Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) workers and professionals. I undertake this research as an ethnical feminist Roma woman from an economically disadvantaged background, and one of only a tiny handful of Roma to have gone this far in my higher education journey. During this journey, I have developed a feminist consciousness with a position on power and patriarchy that challenges both the socio-cultural practices within my Roma community, and Serbian anti-Roma institutional and social racism – especially in the higher education sector. The theory underpinning this research has its roots in intersectionality and postcolonial feminism as developed by feminists of colour in the US and the Global South during the 1980s and ‘90s, but also builds on the adaptation of these theories to the Roma context undertaken by Roma and non-Roma feminist activists since 2005. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s (2012) theories of difference, inclusion and institutional racism, my research shows how conceptions of diversity and inclusion play out in the Serbian context in relation to Roma students’ access to and experiences of higher education. Specifically, the findings show how the contexts of profound poverty (Ringold et al., 2005), institutional and social experiences of racism, and the gendered natured of marginalisation of the Roma people all interact to affect Roma students’ access to higher education. My research further shows what Roma students have found useful in accessing higher education. My research thus explores how the sociocultural practices of these students influence their access to higher education, with a focus on Roma students’ aspiration. It highlights the importance of widening participation of Roma in higher education as an integral element in countering Roma marginalisation in Serbia, improving Roma people’s welfare and of enabling their social mobility and inclusion (Morley et al, 2010).


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