The University of Plymouth has been awarded funding by the Higher Education Funding Council in England (HEFCE) as part of a £7.5million initiative to address barriers to student success.
It is one of the partners, along with the Open University (as lead institution) and University of Leeds, in an initiative which aims to share and promote inclusive educational practices in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines.
The two-year project will focus on disability as a key factor affecting the outcomes of STEM students in higher education, particularly in relation to academic performance and professional employment.
Using successful 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.
This project is one of 17, involving 64 HE providers, backed by HEFCE’s Catalyst fund as part of a programme that aims to support collaborations which develop approaches to addressing differential student outcomes.
The projects will particularly benefit those student groups affected by differential outcomes highlighted in previous HEFCE research, including black and minority ethnic students, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, disabled students, mature students and part-time students. They will also generate evidence across inclusive teaching and learning practices, employability, learning analytics, and wellbeing, and an independent programme-wide evaluation team will review project outcomes and identify key learning.
The University of Plymouth has a long track record of outstanding support in this area, having been awarded Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning status by HEFCE in 2005 to enhance the experiential learning through fieldwork, laboratory work and work-based learning.
It has also pioneered the development of LABplus, an open access laboratory where students across STEM disciplines can enhance their practical field and laboratory skills.
This new project will focus on developing both 'hands-on' and virtual approaches to supporting students with disabilities, helping them to develop the skills and competencies required for professional practice. It has received a total of £480,000 funding, of which Plymouth is to receive £142,000.
The University’s project lead is Dr Alison Stokes, Lecturer in Earth and Environmental Science Education, working closely with colleagues from both LABplus and Disability Assist. She said:
“The changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance mean that we need to rethink the way that we design and deliver our curricula so that students with disabilities, including mental health issues and specific learning difficulties, continue to succeed in HE. This project is a fantastic opportunity to build on our existing expertise and achievements, and to highlight the commitment of all three partner institutions to making education fully accessible and inclusive.”
Dr Trevor Collins, the overall project lead and Research Fellow in Technology Enhanced Learning at The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute, added:
“This project unifies the institutional priorities of the partners to be inclusive and open, celebrating and encouraging diversity in education and research. It will enable us to compare effective practices and develop inclusive education that is suitable for everyone.”