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Barriers and enablers to higher education: the experiences of disabled students from minority cultural backgrounds

This project will take an intersectional approach and examine the student experience from the combined perspectives of BAME and disability as many students fall into more than one of these categories: in 2019 there were 10,543 students registered in STEM of which 1,246 were BAME and 2,079 were registered disabled. The aim of the project is to investigate the challenges faced by students who fall into these categories within STEM focusing specifically on the journey from registration to completion i.e. what are the barriers facing students entering HE and conversely, what are the enablers that enable them to complete their journey: the tendency is to dwell on the negatives at the expense of the positive and my previous research in this area has highlighted the the challenges that families are willing to overcome in order to support the ambitions of their family member 

The topics explored for these barriers and enablers will be educational background, the input from the family, influence of culture, economics, the relevance of the topic, motivations and how and why the OU was the chosen university. The project will adopt a ‘students as partners’ (Jenkins and Healy, 2011; Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017) approach by recruiting disabled BAME student or students which will depend on the number of volunteers, from STEM as co-researcher/s – details of the selection criteria are given in the ‘Student Involvement’ section below. 

The project will begin with a statistical overview of STEM, Enginerring and Innovation before focusing on module U116 and will follow the students’ journeys from year 1 to completion. It will send a questionnaire to all students concentrating on investigating what did and did not impede their journey to HE; on completion students will be asked if they wished to take part in focus groups where key points raised from the questionnaire can be discussed.

It is also hoped that these discussions will challenge preconceptions and assumptions of how and why BAME students come to the OU and also to HE.  The assumption is often that BAME students are first generation HE and they need not be at all; that the parents might not value the OU because of its distance and part-time approach to education; with that in mind they could prefer their children to go to conventional universities as these could be seen to have higher cultural capital.

The outcomes of the discussions will be passed to academic, teaching and administrative staff to inform structure, pedagogy and student engagement from the point of registration to completion. This trickle-down approach will ensure that all levels of the Faculty have access to the findings and can make appropriate changes to teaching or management practice to ensure completion. On completion, stand-alone workshops will be delivered to staff and data shared with colleagues delivering staff development sessions where appropriate.

In summary, the overall aim of the project is to ensure that disabled students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are as fully supported as they can be throughout their learning journey.

Related Resources: 
File Chris Corcoran.pptx66.76 KB

Project poster.