WERE DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS FAILED BY GOVERNMENT AND UNIVERSITIES IN THE PANDEMIC? INVESTIGATING THE SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN THE UK.

Copson, Freddie (2023) WERE DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS FAILED BY GOVERNMENT AND UNIVERSITIES IN THE PANDEMIC? INVESTIGATING THE SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN THE UK. MRes thesis, University of Lincoln.

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WERE DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS FAILED BY GOVERNMENT AND UNIVERSITIES IN THE PANDEMIC? INVESTIGATING THE SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON DISABLED UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN THE UK.
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Abstract

This research sits within the social and political context of the COVID-19 pandemic, declared by the UK government in March 2020. It explores the experiences of disabled university students studying in United Kingdom (UK) based universities at this time and these students’ perceptions of the actions of the UK government and UK universities in relation to the support provided to disabled students. In addition to the existing, ongoing challenges faced by disabled university students in comparison to their non-disabled peers, recent evidence suggests that these differences and inequalities have become heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this background, this exploratory study adopts a qualitative approach to examine how disabled university students have been treated by universities themselves; the extent to which the government supported disabled students during the pandemic; and the extent to which the pandemic impact the social experiences of disabled students.
While there has not been significant research on these topics, given the pandemic is both recent and ongoing, new research has focused on the accessibility of university education during this time; the late transition to online education at the beginning of the pandemic; and some of the positives and negatives of the online learning experience for disabled university students worldwide. Existing research has not, however, explicitly linked social disability, education, social experiences, and the actions of the UK government together, something this thesis seeks to address.
Theoretically, the research positions disability through the social model, which suggest that disability is caused by the interaction between an individual’s body and the society in which they live, or rather, society’s inability to appropriately accommodate for individual’s physical or mental impairments. It also draws on theory from existing research that suggests university staff can act as either ‘police’ or ‘allies’ for students experiences, expanding the theory further to suggest that other students, as well as staff, may act as police or allies. This research also utilises Moscovici’s theory of social representation to demonstrate the shared experiences of disabled individuals within university education.
This research takes a qualitative approach to data collection through the form of semi-structured interviews conducted virtually. In total, six in-depth interviews were conducted with disabled university students, each with different health conditions and from different levels of study and disciplines. The interviews examined a range of topics including participants’ social experiences during the pandemic and the impact of government policies on academic and social experiences, their university experiences, social experiences, government university and social experiences more broadly, as well as attitudes towards the government. Within this scope, participants were asked about the extent to which they felt supported by their university during the pandemic; the extent to which their experience of being disabled was impacted by the pandemic and how they felt university students in general, as well as disabled students in particular, were treated by the government during the pandemic.
Key findings from this research are the impact of the government’s decisions on certain factors and how this further influenced social discrimination against the disabled community. Secondly, the inconsistent communication and guidance provided to university students by their institutions and the government created confusion for many students on an already stressful situation. The third finding is the polarised outcomes relating to online learning. The transition to online education provided both positives and negatives to disabled university students in the pandemic. Overall, this research highlighted a broad need for accessibility within education as disabled individuals felt unseen with their accessibility needs until they were implemented to support the wider student body. The research also supported the theory that university staff act as ‘allies’ to disabled students or ‘police’ their disability and accessibility needs. Results from this research can be utilised to shape the universal design for learning which many educators are seeking. Positive aspects of online learning experiences can be further utilised to create an accessible education system within universities. This further includes ensuring that academics understand the need for, and effectively implement, accessible learning resources.

Keywords:COVID-19 Pandemic, disability, Higher Education
Subjects:L Social studies > L340 Disability in Society
L Social studies > L900 Others in Social studies
X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
X Education > X300 Academic studies in Education
X Education > X900 Others in Education
Divisions:Eleanor Glanville Centre
ID Code:55718
Deposited On:10 Aug 2023 15:20

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