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"Ask your disabled students: what does inclusivity look like?"

Monday 13-02-2017 - 10:53

A report has been published on ‘Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’, by the Department for Education, after the Disabled Students Sector Leadership Group, which NUS has been attending, submitted proposals and ideas.

The report aims to provide reasons why universities should become more inclusive spaces, and improve their practices.

While the resulting report is not guidance, regulation or have any legal force, parts of the report may be a useful tool for student unions in campaigning to make their campuses more inclusive. It will be vital for the student voice to be heard. This is why we’ve developed a survey for universities and colleges to run – and I’m asking students’ union officers to work with their institution to ensure the survey (or a very similar exercise) is carried out.

 

Background

This report has been published almost three years after cuts were first announced to DSA. The cuts have meant universities will have to either make individual reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act, or become more inclusive in order to prevent the need for lots of reasonable adjustments. Universities, as the government’s logic goes, should be incentivised to become more inclusive spaces. Whether that actually happens is up for debate, and also up to us.

NUS has never agreed with those original reforms, and you can read NUS’ briefing on the changes here. We felt they oversimplified the problem and sought to take money from disabled students in order to plug a funding gap created by the government’s tuition fee mess, where more government money was being spent to fund larger student loans. At NUS we are clear that disabled students require a mixture of support from DSAs, reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act, as well as learning environments becoming more inclusive. We don’t believe for one moment that all individualised support can be swept away and simply replaced by ‘inclusive practice’. NUS responded to the government’s consultation, stating our concerns and outlining how any support system for disabled students must meet our five criteria:

  • Support must be high quality;
  • Support must be timely;
  • Support must be individualised;
  • Support must be consistent across different types of institutions, main and satellite campuses, different faculties or different levels and modes of study (allowing for individual needs); and
    - The student must have access to appropriate and speedy mechanisms for appeal and redress.

While universities’ efforts to become more inclusive are to be encouraged, we must remain vigilant to ensure ‘inclusive practice’ is not used to remove necessary individual reasonable adjustments, and that support for disabled students is underlined by the Five Principles we set out in 2014.

 

Recommendations

The report sets out the benefits to a university of undertaking a more inclusive approach. Namely, universities can close the disability attainment gap and recruit more disabled students currently not accessing HE. We do not agree with some aspects of the report, explicitly we do not agree that the Teaching Excellence Framework will enhance the quality of teaching and learning, for all the reasons our Vice-President Higher Education Sorana Vieru has set out previously.

That said, we support the use of virtual learning environments, improving accessibility of printed materials, allowing recording, and training academic staff in inclusive practice can all help disabled students. Providers should have a clear plan to ensure they ask students for their input, and to communicate how that input has shaped policy and practice thereafter, as well as prompting further feedback at regular intervals as the changes are embedded.

 

Use the survey!

While the arguments supplied in this report might be of use to student unions in lobbying your university, we firmly believe that the people who are best placed to judge what support disabled students require at a particular university are, unsurprisingly, those disabled students themselves. For that reason we are pleased to publish an accompanying survey for institutions to use to gather the views of disabled students, written by NUS.

The barriers to inclusive education in a small campus-based arts college barriers may differ to those in a large, urban university. Institutions specialising in science will have different considerations to those who focus on business and law. Universities spread over multiple campuses will have their own challenges, and so on.

Unions should, of course, feel free to amend, shorten, lengthen or otherwise tailor the survey tool as required. We would recommend meeting with your Vice-Chancellor to discuss the report, and push them to survey of the experiences of disabled students at your university. The survey could either be conducted by the university, or if they refuse, your union could run it instead.

 

We hope this tool is useful to you, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

 

In solidarity,

James

james.elliott@nus.org.uk / @JFGElliott

 

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