The University recently hosted an event to explore the barriers to Higher Education (HE) facing students with visual impairment (VI) in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.
Last week, HE practitioners from Bath along with the universities of Oxford, Exeter, Bristol, Reading, Open University, UWE and Newcastle, Weston and New Worcester colleges, as well as representatives from organisations such as: the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB); the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB) and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) TechDis, came to campus to explore the major barriers facing students with VI when making decisions about studying HE STEM subjects.
The event was organised by our Widening Participation Office in collaboration with MASH (Mathematical and Statistical Centre) and Sensory Support Services for BANES, South Gloucester, Bristol and North Somerset.
Disabled learners are currently under-represented in STEM subjects in the UK universities and this is recognised as one of the important issues in the debate for fair access to HE. The requirements for STEM subjects can present a major barrier when students with VI are planning to enter HE and deciding what subject to study.
Students with VI who currently study STEM subjects at a postgraduate level attended the event to share good practise and contribute to developing a framework to assist learners and their teachers to plan for HE.
Alistair McNaught, senior advisor for the JISC TechDis Service, said: “Too often the interests and aspirations of blind students in STEM subjects are frustrated. The expertise to support their needs exists but not always in their own institution.
“The value of this vital event was in bringing together a wide range of people with different expertise to explore the art of the possible and join up a fragmented community of practice in order to be more effective.”
This event was funded by the National HE STEM Programme, a £21m Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) & (Higher Education Funding Council for Wales) HEFCW funded programme that ran for three years from July 2009 and supported universities in exploring new approaches to recruiting students and delivering programmes of study within STEM disciplines.
Iryna Withington, Widening Participation Co-ordinator at our University, emphasised the importance of such events in helping students. She said: “There is a significant need for Widening Participation activities that focus on a specific disability such as VI.
“We hope that through the contributions from different stakeholders – academic staff, professional support staff, disability researchers and students – our event enabled the sharing of good practices and added value to the process of working together towards inclusive curricula. We also hope that it developed valuable links that can be sustained in the future’”
A previous event organised by the team aimed to develop good practice in assisting visually impaired STEM students, with particular emphasis on inclusive laboratory provision and positive pre-entry outreach. (see http://www.hestem-sw.org.uk/project?id=14)