Students at the Margins Worldwide: Words Matter

This is a blog post that I wrote following my participation in a workshop called “Students at the Margins and the Institutions that Serve Them: A Global Perspective” at the Salzburg Global Seminar. Photos are compliments of the Salzburg Global Seminar. This post is also included on Seminar’s blog

Session 537 commences

While at Salzburg Global Seminar this week, I have been thinking about the interplay among the words in our program title, “Students at the Margins and the Institutions that Serve Them: A Global Perspective.” I was attracted to this program because of three key phrases: “students at the margins,” “serve,” and “global.” My own research examines the role of international scholarships in providing students from low- and middle-income countries access to higher education unlikely available in their home countries.

Small group work at the session

Listening to other seminar participants speak over the past few days, I have come to realize how these key phrases are conceptualized across different cultures and contexts. “Students at the margins” is not always a minority population; in the case of South Africa, the definition includes those from majority Black population who have been denied access to higher education for much of the country’s history. “Serving” students at the margins goes far beyond providing access to higher education; it is also the idea of nurturing the university student to thrive in their courses or to find access to financial support to continue their studies. The term “global perspective” assumes a comparative study of local cultures, but it also calls attention to a lack of quality research facilities or transparent education systems in many students’ home countries.

For me, one of the key messages from this seminar is that words matter. Having a similar language allows people – both those leaders attending the seminar and those not fortunate enough to join us – to collaborate internationally to support students at the margins to access quality higher education. As an outcome of this seminar, a small working group is proposing to establish a glossary of terms related to students at the margins and higher education across the world. Our hope is that this tool will be helpful in building greater understanding and international cooperation on this important movement. As we have seen many times and in many places, commonly-understood language and precise messages are important to any social movement.

Building links for students at the margins

Many of us – certainly those at this Salzburg Global Seminar program – believe that higher education is central to developing future leaders, thinkers, and activists. Across the world, we see higher education student mobility rates increase, with many future leaders being exposed to excellent educational opportunities in other countries. Therefore, for me, access to international education is at the core of this idea of serving students on the margins. Being at Salzburg this week, surrounded by incredibly inspirational and talented individuals who want the best for their students, I have expanded and strengthened my understanding of students at the margins and have thought of new ways to support access to international education. I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity to be part of the Salzburg Global Seminar.

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