Listening to our ‘diverse’ students and preparing learning futures to enhance the retention and academic success of all. Reflections on a HEA International Scholarship 2013-2014.

Dr Suanne Gibson (Plymouth University) and Mrs Alison Mc Lauchlin (Hertfordshire University)

Against a backdrop of what some perceive as a failed rights agenda for students with ‘disability’, this study began as a quest to find a way forward, to look beyond rights legislation and develop an inclusive pedagogy linked to ‘relationship’. Initially the work looked at questions of ‘disability’ then moved on to engage with ‘intersectionalities’. This resulted in a broadening of focus to encompass a wider scale study providing rich layers of understanding regarding student diversity and university experience.
With centres of student stakeholders and facilitators working within university settings in Australia, Europe, New Zealand and the U.S.A. the aim was to include groups of students who, on the basis of self selection, considered they represented diverse components of their university’s student population. ‘Diversity’ was defined as representing self identities linked to disability, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and/or socio-economic background.
On average, 300 undergraduate students of education were invited to take part in an online survey at each centre. On the basis of survey responses, a small sample group were selected from each centre to form follow up focus groups where discussion and data analysis took place. The focus groups explored participants’ understandings of ‘diverse learners and/or learning’, ‘inclusive forms of education’ and ‘experiences of inclusive provision at university’.
This paper reflects on some of the project’s findings, considers what participants perceive as important questions for the future of inclusive higher education and engages with what appears to be the important matter of ‘relationship’ in the quest to strengthen diverse learner outcomes. This paper has been written by the project leader with input from project participants- students and centre facilitators.