Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER)

Case Study: Roma

Who are Roma?

The term ‘Roma’ is often used to refer to a number of different groups, such as Roma, Sinti, Kale, Gypsies, Romanichels, Boyash, Ashkali, Egyptians, Yenish, Dom, Lom, and also includes Travellers.1

According to the EU, the estimated Roma population in Europe is between 10 and 12 million. Roma people are often disadvantaged in many areas of life and are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, poverty, and discrimination. Furthermore, widespread negative attitudes towards Roma present significant barriers to improving inclusion.2 Indeed, an article in Wired suggests that the most common hate speech in the UK derives from insults against the Roma, Traveller, or Gypsy community, while other sources indicate that this is now the only socially acceptable form of racism.

What is being done to support them?

In 2011, the European Commission adopted an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, calling on member states to address more effectively the challenge of Roma inclusion by the end of the decade. Acknowledging that legislation alone isn’t sufficient, the EU seeks an integrated and sustainable approach across different areas, including education, employment, health, and housing.

This builds on other initiatives, such as International Roma Day, an annual event held on 8thApril to celebrate Roma culture and to raise awareness of the issues facing Roma people. In 2009, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, spoke of her country’s commitment to protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma people throughout Europe.

The Roma Education Fund (REF) was created in the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion in 2005. Its mission and ultimate goal is to close the gap in educational outcomes between Roma and non-Roma. In order to achieve this goal, the organisation supports policies and programs which ensure quality education for Roma, including scholarships.

And what’s happening the in the UK?

The higher education rate for Roma is just 3%, despite the presence of widening participation schemes across the country. While universities have been successful in including other ethnic minority groups, Roma remain underrepresented. This is due to factors including barriers in earlier stages of education, familial expectations, and persistently negative stereotypes in the media.

As Tanja Jovanovic explains:

‘The media is full of terrible stereotypes of Roma. They are often portrayed as living in squalor, as thieves and cheats. There is almost no coverage about all the Roma who live and work quietly – often in professional jobs.’3

Tanja is a Roma student from Serbia who is studying for PhD at the University of Sussex. After completing a Master’s in international education and development, Tanja was encouraged and funded by the University’s Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research (CHEER) to pursue her doctoral thesis on access and participation of the Roma in HE.

This video from the HEIM Project explains some of the challenges that Gypsy Roma Traveller (GTR) communities face in accessing higher education:

How can you support Roma researchers?

When advising ECRs or undertaking an international project, consider the ECU’s practical tips on supporting researchers. Also examine whether there is evidence of unconscious, implicit, or confirmation bias operating in your institution. You should also be aware of the legal framework and policies that apply in your country.

Here is an example of the difference good support can make:

‘But Roma Access Program is just great. … It is so well designed and it is so…  You feel like they understand all your opinions and your needs and for example, when we came to Budapest, we couldn’t speak…  I mean, most of us couldn’t speak right or at least we could speak…  We could say something in English but that would be completely bad and… They take care about our health insurance, about the residential needs.  She’s literally going with you.  Like you’re a child or… It’s not only academic, academically and it’s not a wholly academic program.  It’s really focused on.  It’s what I can call maybe human.  Response to your needs is there. It is a very supportive background.  All the Roma, have the same background but it’s…  Yes, it cares when you have problems.  You can really talk to them.’ (Female, Serbian)

The four Roma participants in the HEIM interviews offered multiple insights into how their identity as a socially marginalised ethnic group interacted with internationalisation. One advantage of mobility was that this connected them with an international Roma community. It also enabled them to recast what they believed were their negative international identities to that of global citizenship. They appreciated the structure higher educational opportunities that had been provided by Roma organisations in Central and Eastern Europe, including scholarships, mentorship, and access programmes. However, they often faced prejudice once they moved beyond their Roma academic communities.

A female Roma academic working in the USA made strenuous attempts to internationalise herself but felt that her outward-facing orientation was resented by her colleagues. Her mobility interacted with stereotypes about Roma nomadism, rootlessness, and marginality: “I’ve had a dean who said something like, oh; you’re still doing the gypsy thing?” For some Roma participants, negative social identities pursued them internationally. A Serbian academic related how, when she was studying in the UK, a Hungarian student remarked: Oh but you don’t look like Roma. She felt like she’s supposed to make me feel better with this.

Elitism was cited as an example of how internationalisation intersected with social and cultural capital, as a Romanian-Hungarian academic working in the UK observed: I think the racism is so vicious that you must be a very special elite of Roma to be able to access all these opportunities .. I really can see that if you are a Roma and working class, everything is closed to you.



  1. National Roma Integration Strategies
  2. National Roma Integration Strategies
  3. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/higher-education-must-not-exclude-roma-communities