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New Labour, social justice and disabled students in higher education

Riddell, Sheila and Tinklin, Teresa and Wilson, Alastair (2005) New Labour, social justice and disabled students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal, 31 (5). pp. 623-643. ISSN 0141-1926

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This article draws on findings from an Economic and Social Research Council funded research project entitled 'Disabled Students and Multiple Policy Innovations in Higher Education' (R000239069). It begins with a brief review of theories of social justice and their implications for widening access policies for disabled students. Social justice may be conceptualised in relation to the distribution of social goods and cultural recognition. Related to distribution, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency are used to analyse the progress which has been made in expanding the number of disabled students in higher education and the wider social characteristics of disabled students. Related to recognition, the article considers changes which have been made at the institutional level to make the academic environment more conducive to the inclusion of disabled students. It is noted that new public management has often been used as the vehicle for achieving social justice goals. Whilst progress has been made in relation to redistribution and recognition, the adoption of managerialist strategies has had some negative effects. For example, dyslexic students who tend to be male and middle class have been the greatest beneficiaries of the expansion, whereas poorer disabled students and those with more significant impairments have been less likely to be included. In addition, the adoption of a categorical approach for the purposes of social audit does not fit readily with disabled students' conception of self.