ESRC Indigenous Youth and Skills Development through Higher Education

Project: Research council

Project Details


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.
Effective start/end date1/03/2128/02/25

Collaborative partners


  • Economic and Social Research Council

RCUK Research Areas

  • Education
  • Social anthropology
  • Social Anthropology
  • Sociology


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