OU receives new grant to make education more inclusive

The Open University (OU) is leading a £480,050 project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council in England, to address barriers to student success.

In collaboration with the University of Leeds and Plymouth University, Dr Trevor Collins, Research Fellow in the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute, is initiating the ‘Embedding and sustaining inclusive STEM practices’ project. This two-year collaboration aims to share and promote inclusive educational practices in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines across UK universities.

The project, which began on 1 March 2017 and will run to 28 February 2019, will focus on disability as a key factor affecting the outcomes of STEM students across Higher Education (HE), particularly in relation to academic performance and professional employment.

The proportion of OU students with disabilities has increased year-on-year since 2011, reaching 16% by May 2016 (14% in STEM). STEM is consistent with the rest of the OU and HE sector in seeing a rise in the proportion of students declaring mental health disabilities (22% of STEM declarations) and specific learning difficulties (16% of STEM declarations). This presents a significant proportion of OU students for whom access to learning resources and social inclusion within group learning activities is critical for their success.

Building on both previous collaborations and expertise unique to each institution, the cross-institutional team will capture, evaluate, apply and disseminate inclusive educational practices. Specifically, the project will focus on enabling Higher Education institutions to:

  • Embed inclusive educational resources and design practices.
  • Sustain inclusive module and curriculum delivery practices.
  • Develop inclusive career pathways for students and graduates.

This project unifies the institutional priorities of the partners, notably: the OU’s mission to be ‘open to people, places, methods and ideas’ and its values of inclusivity, innovation and responsiveness; the University of Leeds’ remit to provide ‘fair and equal treatment, active engagement with a variety of learning opportunities, and recognition and celebration of diversity’; and Plymouth University’s objective to ‘advance knowledge and transform lives through education and research’.

Using the successful and innovative developments in fieldwork, lab work and online learning that already exist at each institution, the project will work in partnership with staff and students to further embed the values and practices of inclusive education. Key outcomes will include case studies on STEM-specific pedagogies that evidence the impact of inclusive design, and cross-institutional recommendations and principles developed in consultation with the wider HE sector and professional associations.

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