“They were questioning whether I would even bother coming back”. Exploring evidence of inequality in “access”, “success” and “progression” in higher education for students with vision impairment

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Drawing upon a unique longitudinal study, which has followed the experiences of students with vision impairment (VI) in the United Kingdom (UK) through the full university student lifecycle, we report the findings of an original analysis that seeks to broaden understanding of the lived experiences of students with disabilities in higher education (HE) by critically assessing student outcomes with respect to “access”, “success” and “progression”. The paper presents evidence collected from 40 participants, captured through 205 interviews over a 7-year period, and uses this evidence to assist with interpreting patterns observed in national equality data, and in identifying hidden inequalities which these datasets do not capture. We examine how well this equality data represents the reported experiences of students with VI. We do this by firstly considering where the data might not fully represent the experiences of the student, and secondly by interpreting why some of the observed inequalities persist. We take a holistic view of the student experience, by examining factors that might impact upon the student at different levels through the perspective of the Bioecological Model of Inclusive Higher Education. The findings show that whilst national equality data in the UK capture improved access and attainment for students with VI in HE, it fails to capture poor lived experiences, and restricted choice. The findings also identify barriers to successful transitions into the labour market, in some cases intrinsically linked to barriers faced during their courses.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEducational Review
Early online date27 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 May 2021


  • Higher Education, inequality, inclusive learning and teaching, vision impairment, disability