Academic journal article International Education Studies

Inclusion in Higher Education: Learning Experiences of Disabled Students at Winchester University

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Inclusion in Higher Education: Learning Experiences of Disabled Students at Winchester University

Article excerpt


The qualitative study reported on in this article was motivated by the widely held belief that an inclusive approach to teaching and learning is a productive way of enhancing the participation and achievement of all students. In particular, the study was informed by theories of inclusion and the view that disability as a social construct recognizes the challenges that exist within a social setup. In total, four students and three lecturers participated and the interviews were loosely structured and conversational in order to elicit as much information as possible. The emerging findings were analysed using a rhyzoanalytic approach extracted from the philosophies of difference. The findings suggested that inclusive education in the context of higher education is informed by a complex set of understandings and does not revolve around the mere identification of barriers and associated solutions but involves a whole range of factors. In addition, there is need for continuous reflection among practitioners to make the experiences of all the stakeholders rewarding. Inter-departmental discussions on the best practices should not focus exclusively on disabled students but should include all members of staff as well as the rest of the student population.

Keywords: Deleuze, disability, Guattari, higher education, inclusion, inclusive education, rhyzo-analytic

1. Introduction and Background

The research on which this article is based explored the experiences of disabled students at the University of Winchester as part of a commitment on the part of the Learning and Teaching Development Unit (LTDU) to improving learning by creating an understanding of student needs. The study was motivated by the belief that an inclusive approach to teaching and learning in higher education is effective in addressing student's educational needs. It sought to offer insights into the lived experiences of both lecturers and students as a discussion basis for informing teaching practices and creating an awareness of the hidden voices of disabled students. The emerging conceptualisations were aimed at improving disabled students' learning experiences by shedding light on the effectiveness of the university's current approach to support. As a result, the university would be expected to reconsider or diversify the current range of support structures for students with disabilities as a basis for a wider institutional approach to support learning in general.

The increasing popularity of inclusive education over the years has led to cultural transformations and the development of new policy agendas to include students at all levels of learning. This has been stimulated partly by various laws such as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA, 1995) in the United Kingdom (UK) which place emphasis on providing support for disabled students in higher education.

As a result, there has been a large increase both in student numbers and diversity in institutions of higher education in recent years (Tinklin, Riddell, & Willson, 2004). These changing trends have also witnessed pressure for the provision of inclusive education through amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). Furthermore, according to the code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education published by the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA, 2012), disabled students are an integral part of academic life and their needs ought to be central to the university's mission in the same way that other provisions are. As a result, institutions of higher education have developed innovative ways of supporting student needs; however, the extent to which such arrangements work for students is still debatable because student needs are always in a state of "becoming"-that is, continually evolving.

Although a growing number of studies focus on disabled students' access to higher education, there is little mention of the individual experiences of students with invisible limitations (Tinklin & Hall, 1999). …

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