How does the framework help students?

Some students belong to educationally disadvantaged groups as defined by the Office for Students (e.g., students from educationally disadvantaged areas, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority students, disabled students). Other students might not belong to these demographic groups (e.g., commuter students, students with anxiety, students transferring between universities), but will still be supported by inclusive education practices.

We have included four examples of students from a variety of backgrounds, and how the activities in the inclusive higher education framework help them fulfil their potential. We use these case studies to illustrate a range of advantages to inclusive practice, and to help build empathy between staff and students (Smith 2015; Hubbard 2020). These case studies cannot possibly represent the full breadth of inclusive practice; they are intended as ‘snap shots’ to help understand the potential of the framework. The case studies do not represent all students within a given demographic ‘group’; inclusive practice recognises that students are individuals, and the needs and experiences of two students within the same ‘group’ might be very different.

We recommend that staff work in partnership with students to understand the breadth of student experience in their local context, and use the insights gained to underpin implementation of the framework for all students.

Examples of The Framework in Action: Mark

Mark has come to university aged 18 after doing a BTEC National Diploma. He excels in practicals but has always struggled more with written work. Mark is living away from home for the first time and works 20 hours a week at a part time job to subsidise his rent. His parents are in professional roles, and most of his friends went to university.

Mark will be supported by the activities in the framework in several ways:Mark illustration

Processes and Structures: The departmental team are aware that many of their students find combining work and study challenging. The timetable has therefore been planned to give least one free day a week. This allows Mark to work predictable shifts, therefore organising his time more effectively and reducing financial anxiety.

Curriculum: The programme team know that they have A level, BTEC and foundation year students in their department. They have therefore carefully considered what prior knowledge and skills are required, and clearly articulated these for all students. The first two teaching weeks give all students opportunities to practise and consolidate relevant background knowledge before introducing new content. This helps Mark address gaps in his knowledge, levelling the playing field for students with different entry qualifications.

Curriculum: Mark’s programme considers decolonisation and racism within the discipline within compulsory modules. As a white student he was previously unaware of some of these issues. With this new understanding he can adopt a more inclusive attitude, becoming a more effective ally on campus and in future employment.

Assessment: Having authentic assessments that link to career aspirations help all students. For Mark, the inclusion of relevant authentic practical assessments allows him to play to his strengths, and lets him effectively demonstrate his competency in the discipline.

Examples of The Framework in Action: Lydia

Lydia is a 1st year student who came to Hull through clearing, having missed her A level grades for her first-choice university. Lydia has considerable levels of anxiety, so finds large groups of people, and social situations very difficult to deal with. Most of her school friends didn’t go to university, and she is struggling to make new friends either on her course or in her halls of residence. Lydia also has a long-term health condition that requires her to attend regular hospital appointments, which is impacting on her attendance. As a result, Lydia is feeling very homesick and has considered leaving university to go back home.

Lydia illustration

Adopting an inclusive approach enables Lydia to succeed in the following ways:

Assessment: Lydia’s programme has a coherent and streamlined assessment design, which means that she is less likely to be overwhelmed by over-assessment. The opportunity to practise assessment formats within the programme helps her manage anxiety, particularly when she gets constructive feedback on how to improve her work.

Relationships and Belonging: Lydia’s programme includes a group assignment early on, which is carefully designed so that all students are given an equal opportunity to contribute via personalised tasks. Lydia may find this structured group work format easier to engage with and can start to develop friendships with her group that she will keep for the rest of her programme.

Pathways to Success: A clear articulation of the programme structure and expectations at the start of the year for all students means that Lydia doesn’t feel that she missed out on important information via clearing. The programme team also meet with all students individually during induction. This means that Lydia can be reassured that her A level grades will not define her future academic success, and any on-going support can be put in place.

Pathways to Success: Lydia’s department have a strong culture of personal supervision, with structured regular 1:1 meetings within the context of taught modules. This gives Lydia the opportunity to build a relationship of trust with her personal supervisor, who will be able to reassure her about her academic progress and provide constructive support where needed. Her personal supervisor can also support her in managing the impact of her health condition on her studies, including signposting to relevant support services on campus.

Examples of The Framework in Action: Kwame

Kwame is British-Nigerian, and comes from London, where his parents are independent small business owners. Kwame lives in university accommodation in term time and is an active member of the university martial arts society. In non-teaching weeks Kwame lives at home with a large extended family, and his parents expect him to take on lots of domestic responsibilities such as taking younger siblings to school, shopping and running errands. He was a high achiever at 6th form, but he is disappointed that his university grades are constantly on the 2i/2ii border, despite him spending long hours in the library studying.

Kwame illustration

Kwame will be supported by an inclusive education approach in multiple ways, including:

Processes and Structures: The institutional awarding gap strategy requires programme teams to take responsibility for their awarding gap data, and to identify appropriate interventions. After several Black and Asian students including Kwame highlight the difficulties in studying at the family home, the programme team move any assignment deadlines that fall immediately after a vacation for all students.

Assessment: As part of the department’s inclusion strategy, assessment instructions and mark schemes are reviewed in partnership with students to ensure clarity of language for all. The programme also embeds activities that help students to understand marking criteria and the requirements of assessments at the new higher level of study. Kwame finds this approach particularly helpful, as he came into university with misconceptions about how to get good grades.

Relationships and Belonging: Kwame appreciates that teaching staff are pro-active in leading an inclusive culture in the department, including having a clear anti-racist stance. This means he doesn’t feel isolated and has culturally appropriate support. His personal supervisor is also aware of awarding gaps, so actively supports Kwame to reflect on his grades and develop a strategy to improve his marks going forward.

Pathways to Success: Recognising that ethnic minority students face particular challenges within higher education and the job market, the university has established a formal Black student mentoring scheme. Having a mentor from a similar cultural background has helped Kwame regain confidence, and has shown him a greater range of potential future careers.

Examples of The Framework in Action: Joanna

Joanna is a mature student who has returned to university to complete a postgraduate taught programme now that her children are at school full time. Having completed her undergraduate degree over 10 years ago, she is struggling with the transition back to study, and is quite intimidated by the prospect of her dissertation. The decision to do a postgraduate programme means that Joanna’s family are financially stretched. They only have one car, so Joanna has to drop-off and collect her children and wife from school/work on days that she is required on campus. Joanna’s house has a poor internet connection, and she shares her outdated computer with her children who also use it for school work.

Joanna illustration

Adopting an inclusive approach enables Joanna to succeed in the following ways:

Processes and Structures: Routine recording of lectures and use of captions in video content help Joanna engage with academic content in her noisy home environment. Asynchronous content allows her to engage with the course at times compatible with her busy family life.

Curriculum: Joanna’s programme leaders recognise that students come from a variety of different educational and professional backgrounds. To level the playing field at the start of the programme, they develop group-based activities to help students identify their existing skills and knowledge, and any gaps that need addressing. Through this, Joanna realises she is better qualified for postgraduate study than she thought, and starts to make friendships.

Curriculum: Joanna’s computer is outdated, so she struggles to install specialist software. However, her programme team have pro-actively reviewed all computer-based teaching activities, and made free, open source or browser-based alternatives available to all students. This means that Joanna is better able to engage with course content without having to disclose her financial and personal circumstances to teaching staff.

Assessment: The regular writing tasks and constructive approach to feedback taken within her postgraduate programme help Joanna prepare for her dissertation. The programme also embeds activities led by a central writing skills team, which encourages Joanna to book some follow up 1:1 support sessions to help her find her academic writing style.


The references below may be useful to you in considering inclusive practice. This is not an exhaustive list of references that were used to create the framework, but a curated set of the references we think are most useful, or that have most informed our thinking.