Mike Wray, ‘You either went to university or you worked in Sainsbury’s’ - Disabled learners and entry to higher education
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9 January 2012
To be presented at the Widening Participation Conference 2012 'Discourses of Inclusion in Higher Education', 24-25 April 2012
‘You either went to university or you worked in Sainsbury’s’ - disabled learners and entry to higher education.
Disabled learners face barriers to entry all the way through their educational careers. There is a significant body of research into the experiences of this group of students in higher education but very few studies compare this experience with groups of non-disabled learners. This is a significant criticism of the WP research field in general (Gorard et al, 2007). This paper reports on research into the experiences of disabled and non-disabled learners in universities and colleges in one region of the UK and also provides an examination of previous research into these issues. Focus groups were interviewed in university and FE colleges including two groups of learners who had decided not to enter university. The research was informed by the social model of disability (Oliver, 1996) and therefore focuses on barriers and enablers within the educational context rather than on individual impairments.
Interview with the author
The research paper you are presenting is titled ‘‘You either went to university or you worked in Sainsbury’s’ - disabled learners and entry to higher education’. I’m interested in learning why you chose to pursue this piece of research: Why these issues in particular?
This research project was funded by a partnership within the UK government Aimhigher initiative. The partnership had recognised disabled learners as a specific target group for increasing entry to HE and had set up a steering group from across the sector. One of the areas we were keen to focus on was providing a more robust evidence base for this work. I had previously identified that many studies within the HE and disability field neglect to compare the experiences of disabled learners with their non-disabled peers. Additionally, we knew from other work that transition from FE into HE is a particularly difficult time for disabled learners. So we were keen to incorporate these 2 aspects into the study.
What are the key findings of your research? Were there any findings your found particularly surprising?
Key findings were that disabled learners report experiencing a number of significant barriers in their educational journeys which are simply not present in the accounts of their non-disabled peers. By chance one of the non-disabled interviewees was a care leaver and she reported very similar barriers to the disabled learners. We also identified a number of enablers which had a significant effect on their educational experiences. Overall, participants reported the transition from college to university as the most significant with the change in teaching styles being a particular barrier. At the time of the study the respondents did not see financial constraints as a major factor holding them back from entering HE.
That’s a really interesting set of findings, thanks. OK, final question: Where do you see this research and yourself heading in the future? Are there particular themes or strands of the work that you particularly want to follow up on?
Apart from getting the work published there are no other plans to follow it up at the moment as the funding for Aimhigher has ended. I produced a report for the regional group which was circulated across various stakeholders such as the local authority and the HE providers in the area. However, I am currently undertaking some further research within the institution I am currently based in on the student experience of inclusion. As with this research I am comparing the experiences of disabled learners with their non-disabled peers but also working with students as co-researchers.
12:01 on 29 February 2012