Higher education institutions reap the benefits of working in partnership with disabled students
Higher Education Academy and ECU launch guidance showing that the way institutions engage with disabled students makes a real difference to the student learning experience, and the institution as a whole
Engaging effectively with disabled students is the key to meeting the needs of all students and realising wider benefits to the whole institution, the Higher Education Academy and ECU said today (Wednesday 9 June) at the launch of new guidance at the University of Derby.
The guidance report, Strategic approaches to disabled student engagement, is the culmination of a year-long programme which brought together seven universities from across England and Wales to develop more effective strategies for engaging with disabled students.
The guidance comes at a time when higher education institutions are increasingly recognising the importance of student engagement across a range of issues. Engaging with disabled students is of particular importance in shaping the facilities and services that institutions provide, as well as curriculum and assessment design.
Dr Helen May, Senior Adviser at the Academy and lead author of the report, said:
'All institutions are required by law to further the involvement of disabled students. At the same time they are also under growing pressure to increase the level of engagement of all students in institutional decision making to enhance the quality of their learning experiences. This requires institutions to move beyond a consultative approach, to work in partnership with all students - including disabled students.'
Through the experiences of the participating institutions, the programme found that the successful engagement of disabled students requires institutions to consider the cultural, strategic and individual dimensions of their approach. A strategic approach requires the support of senior management, as well as those with an operational responsibility for equality.
Professor Michael Gunn, Pro Vice-chancellor of the University of Derby, said:
'Derby's work on this project with the Academy and ECU has really helped us to think differently about our engagement with disabled students.
Senior managers in higher education have a vital role to play in making sure their universities can go beyond the consultation process and move towards creating real partnerships so that engaging with disabled students becomes part of our everyday strategy. It's only when these partnerships become built into our whole-institutional strategic planning that we will become more effective in changing our culture towards disability equality.'
Kate Byford, Senior Policy Adviser on disability at ECU also stressed the need for strategic thinking:
'Strategic planning, based on the knowledge and experience of disabled students, will lead to more effective policies and practices being developed. It also has the benefit of reducing the need to 'retro-fit' solutions to challenges which could have been anticipated through successful student engagement.
As students become more engaged in the decision-making process of the policies and practices that impact on their learning experience, the more effective the institution's cultural change will be. By ensuring effective engagement, institutions will reap a wide range of rewards.'
Dr May added:
'This guidance offers practical ideas and advice to institutions and shows what can be achieved when true partnerships are formed with disabled students, especially when students are engaged from the outset. But it is important to recognise that the guidance will be of significant benefit to institutions working not only with disabled students, but with all students, as they take a more strategic approach to embedding these policies and practices.'
The Academy will soon begin a year-long programme with a further ten institutions from England and Wales to help them implement the guidance.