SMILE: Social Meaning Impact through Lifelong Learning

Our team in the Department of Adult Education are involved in a European Commission funded project called SMILE which we’d like to give you an overview.  It is building on previous work that we’ve been involved in to support greater diversity and inclusion in education across Europe.

The project is led by eucen, the European Universities Continuing Education Network with university-based partners include European Students Union (EU), Johannes Gutenberg University (Germany), Maynooth University (Ireland), University of Turku (Finland), University of Malta (Malta), Università degli Studi di Cagliari (Italy), Gheorghe Asachi Technical University of Iaşi (Bulgaria) and civil society partners including Fundació Solidaritat (Spain), NOTUS (Spain) and Solidar (Belgium).

SMILE is a network of European universities and partners working together to promote inclusive learning across higher education.  Our collective aim in this project is to co-develop, test and implement innovative tools that improve the way education institutions deal with diversity and social inclusion. We work across three areas: migration, socio-economic background and gender.

Maynooth University’s role is to manage one strand of the overall project which focuses on the gender equality and inclusion of women in leadership positions in higher education.  We are aware there is a lot of work being done regarding women and leadership within higher education, and because of this, our focus is on women employed on non-permanent contracts who are often invisible or excluded from institutional gender equality processes.

We are designing our tools with other adult education settings in mind; such as colleges of further education, community and adult education centres.  We are developing three tools:

1. Giving voice to Women in Leadership report which researching experiences of women in education and reviews current literature and research

2. Designing, delivering and evaluating continuous professional development training to staff, both teaching and non-teaching, that promotes women in leadership.

3. Developing and testing a diversity audit tool to support organisations to assess diversity across all aspects of their organisations.

We will be developing three continuous professional development (CPD) courses for university staff (academic and non-academic) so that they are better trained to support inclusion in their work. The CPD courses will be developed using a bottom up approach that will involve representatives of the education institutions, NGOs and community groups, with the aim to give voice to the diverse experiences of staff and students.

The Diversity Audit will be tested and continuously improved through a peer-audit process that will involve a total of 20 universities. At the end of the process, the Diversity Audit Tool will be finalised and made available for any institution interested in using it. A policy operational action plan with recommendations will also be produced, to guide and support universities fulfilling and realising their commitment to diversity and social inclusion.

We are guided in this work by a research advisory group, comprised of women in key positions in different education and women’s groups, who will share their insights and guidance with us. We will be engaging in public communications and activities on a local, national and transnational level during 2022 and 2023, including national colloquiums with key institutional and national decision-makers and a European round-table in Brussels and a final symposium in Barcelona.

We hope that the activities of this project will develop education resources that will be made available across Europe to address concerns about the opportunities for women to take up senior leadership roles within higher and further education providers as well as policy making organisations.  We will be inviting interested people to participate in, or nominate people to participate in, the continuous professional development programme which we will pilot later this year. 

The project hopes to strengthen relationships within Ireland and with the activities conducted by our partners across Europe.  As part of SMILE’s ambition is to shape European Commission policy, participants will also benefit from the opportunity to make direct recommendations to the EC on these issues and shape an education system that is more inclusive of the experiences of people from diverse gender, migrant and socio-economic backgrounds.

We’d love to hear from you in relation to the themes of this project.

Bernie, Camilla, Angela and Sinead

Department of Adult and Community Education

More information about the project is at The SMILE website 

By DACE Maynooth

This is the new blog for students, colleagues and friends of the Department of Adult and Community Education, Maynooth University. We aim to promote diversity and inclusion in education using our online platform. Guest bloggers and friends of the Department will post about their research and experiences in Education. The views expressed by the authors of individual posts do not reflect the views of the Department of Adult and Community Education Maynooth University.

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