Armineh Soorenian on her research into Disability and International Students' Experiences

This article aims to briefly outline the general background to my research into disabled international students´ different experiences in British Higher Education (HE). An assumption of the "normal" appears to underpin the construction and the provision of education within the traditional pedagogical system. Underlying selective structures, based on ability and class membership (Ball et al:2002), often created and perpetuated inequalities (Archer:2003). Entering any educational system has been traditionally based on the selection of the intellectually able/gifted or "elite", and the exclusion of those who were deemed to be educationally incompetent (Tomlinson: 1982). Therefore, conventional systems were geared towards serving the needs of those students perceived to be "normal", with the assumption that such educational institutions as universities were not the place for disabled students (Riddell et al:2005).

However, data provided by the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) and Skill: the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities shows that there has been a considerable increase in the number of disabled domestic students entering British HE between academic years 2001/02 and 2004/05. This increase can be partly attributed to the development of policies and provision for disabled students brought about by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995, and its addition of Part4 - the `Special Educational Needs and Disability Act´ (SENDA) in 2001.

The inclusive widening participation policies adopted by the Labour government to accommodate diversity within the student population, including non-traditional and under-represented groups, may also have contributed to the increased numbers of disabled domestic students at university (Brown & Simpson:2004; Tinklin et al:2002). It can also be argued that access to funds such as Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), Access Funds, Discretionary Awards and Social Security Benefits to help with impairment-related costs has made the transition of disabled domestic students from Further Education (FE) to mainstream HE somewhat smoother (Hurst:1999).

These examples suggest a positive move towards more inclusive educational practices, signifying progressive steps toward adopting the social interpretation of disability in education. The social model is a concerted shift away from an emphasis on an individual´s impairment/s as the cause of disability, to the way in which physical, cultural and social environments exclude or disadvantage disabled people (Barnes:2001). The social model advocates the removal of barriers in society.

In an educational context, this view recognises various social, environmental and teaching barriers as obstructing disabled students´ progress rather than seeing individual students´ impairments as obstacles (Riddell et al:2005). Therefore, this model aims to accommodate all students rather than hold individual disabled students responsible for their failure to access education.Despite this recent progress in disabled students´ access to education, ample research has criticised HE institutions and related organisations for the limited access, support and funding options they offer to disabled students (Cottrell:1996; Parker:1999). Disabled domestic students who enter HE, despite its selective nature and inflexible culture (Burke:2005), often face various discriminatory social and environmental practices (Fuller et al:2004). This may be particularly the case for disabled international students, who may contend with possible additional cultural and linguistic barriers in British HE. Yet, very little is being written about this group.

However, the figures provided by HESA indicate that the percentage in increase of disabled international students entering British HE (38.24%) exceeds both disabled domestic students (37.02% increase) and non-disabled international students (31.38% increase). Despite the considerable increase in disabled international students ccessing HE, there is no designated organisation responsible for their affairs. This means that there are no official services for representation, $advice, policymaking and campaigning purposes. In the literature studied thus far, disabled international students´ needs are often referred to Skill and the Council for International Education (UKCOSA); neither of which appear to be specifically concerned with provision for this group.

Consequently, disabled international students may feel invisible, and that their difficulties are either `irrelevant´ or `added on as an optional extra´ (Vernon 1999:391). They may feel discriminated against and rejected from such disabled domestic students´ groups as Students with Disabilities (SWD) within the National Union of Students (NUS) and also from non-disabled international students´ groups such as the Council of International students (CIS). This possible marginalisation could contradict Skill´s statement, which claims that SENDA covers part-time, overseas, evening class, postgraduate, undergraduate, distance learning disabled students (DEMOS:2003). Hence by employing a particular methodology and established data collection $trategies, the study will identify and examine any difficulties and concerns that this group faces in academic and social life whilst in HE. Additionally, ways that these barriers can be removed will be suggested.