About the National Forum
What We Stand For
The National Forum of Inclusive Higher Education Providers, is a national interest group comprised of representatives of HEIs who offer programmes of inclusive education to learners with intellectual disabilities in Ireland. Its mission is to provide a forum for consultation between providers, with a view to driving strategic developments, informing policy, building capacity in HEI to deliver programmes for people with intellectual disabilities and facilitating the sustainability of programmes of inclusive higher education in Ireland.
The National Forum will meet to consult on matters pertaining to programmes of inclusive higher education in Ireland. This includes the following in addition to other matters that may arise:
Sustainability is a key issue highlighted in INHEF’s first official report “A National Response” (2019). Higher education providers that offer inclusive education initiatives for students with intellectual disabilities have traditionally been established and supported by philanthropic and charitable donations. Without the financial support from generous donors, the majority of the current inclusive education initiatives operating within Irish higher education providers would not be in operation today.
INHEF recognises that “the charity model” is an extension of the medical model of disability. The charity model is not only unsustainable long-term, it also fosters a systemic “social add-on” attitude towards inclusive education initiatives designed to support students with intellectual disabilities.
The UNCRPD adopts a human rights approach. To align with the UNCRPD, Ireland must make sure people with disabilities are:
i. Able to develop their skills and abilities.
ii. Are not excluded from any sort of education.
iii. Have their needs met as far as possible including reasonable accommodation of their requirements.
iv. Get proper support to learn, including any necessary individualised supports.
INHEF will advise and work with government bodies and representatives towards campaigning for coherent policy and long-term sustainable funding streams for inclusive higher educational initiatives across Ireland. Additionally, INHEF will engage with the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to secure core funding and access to SUSI grants and the Fund for Students with Disabilities.
INHEF provides a space for higher education representatives to collaborate and share best practice at any stage of development or growth for inclusive educational initiatives, nationally.
INHEF will promote and advocate inclusion and access beyond local agreements across the higher education sector in Ireland by demonstrating what is possible for non-traditional students and evidencing the positive impact of diversity for the wider college community as a whole. In particular, encouraging the wide-scale adaption of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a core teaching principal to reduce additional support resources required.
In the long-term, INHEF will endeavour to develop a support infrastructure for inclusive education initiatives by engaging with the Irish Universities Association (IUA) and the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) to bring prominence to the barriers and issues at institutional and sectoral levels.
Furthermore, INHEF will Network with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Disability Advisory Working Network (DAWN) to gain wider support with addressing inequalities experienced by students with intellectual disabilities.
It has been perceived by INHEF members nationally that relevant information and advice on the accessibility and suitability of inclusive education initiatives is lacking for students with intellectual disabilities who wish to progress to further and higher education.
INHEF seeks to create national visibility for inclusive educational initiatives across Ireland via online presence (website, social media, etc.) with a strategic awareness campaign and an official launch. The INHEF website will act as an essential resource outlining relevant and up-to-date information for students, families, and schools (teachers; special needs assistants; learning supports; guidance counsellors; etc.).
The ambition of an awareness campaign is to demonstrate to potential students with intellectual disabilities (and families, schools and carers etc.) that higher education is a realistic opportunity for this cohort to continue to develop and learn new skills. Students and co. require information on the variety of different courses on offer; access routes available to them; entry criteria for individual initiatives. Ultimately, the aim of an awareness campaign is to raise the expectations of this non-traditional student population to enter and participate fully in the higher education system.
Unemployment and underemployment are critical issues affecting people with intellectual disabilities nationally. Recent reports and research indicate increased chance of living in poverty for this population. In order to combat this higher education providers offering inclusive education programmes specifically for students with intellectual disabilities are endeavoring to educate and train students with intellectual disabilities to become work ready through rigorous curriculum and assessment procedures.
Many INHEF member institutions have sought formal accreditation for their education programme in line with the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) framework. Despite these positive advancements within the sector, progression routes to employment and/or adult life for graduating students are still disjointed and uncertain.
INHEF will forge links with employer groups nationally, to support employment transition post-graduation for students studying on inclusive education programmes and to foster a culture of inclusive practice within the workplace, by supporting and encouraging employers with regard to the role they can play.