Original Research

Access into professional degrees by students with disabilities in South African higher learning: A decolonial perspective

Sibonokuhle Ndlovu
African Journal of Disability | Vol 8 | a514 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v8i0.514 | © 2019 Sibonokuhle Ndlovu | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 March 2018 | Published: 10 June 2019

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Sibonokuhle Ndlovu, Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Background: Former historically disadvantaged social groups such as women, black people and those with disabilities are expected to participate in the skilled labour force that South Africa has pledged to produce for the 21st century. However, in the South African context, research widely neglects access of those into professional degrees in higher learning. There is a need for such an exploration because people with disabilities have been found to be excluded from professional employment.

Objectives: Using decolonial theory, this empirical study sought to explore obstacles confronted by students with disabilities at entry in a specific institution of higher learning in South Africa. The aim was to unveil the invisible obstacles and their causes for an effective intervention.

Method: A qualitative research design was adopted and in-depth interviews were conducted to collect data from the participants. This particular dimension of research method was chosen to enable dialogue and development of partnership, which is important for collecting rich data.

Results: While policies of inclusion still enabled access of all students into professional degrees, there were however inequitable practices, alienation and inequality that excluded students with disabilities at entry. Obstacles seen at surface level were not the real ones; the real ones were the deep-seated issues of coloniality.

Conclusion: If the underlying causes of obstacles at entry are not visible to students with disabilities themselves and the responsible stakeholders, students might continue to be oppressed on entry into the professional degrees and in higher learning generally. Obstacles can only be dismantled when there is an awareness about their deep-seated causes.


students with disabilities; higher learning; access; decolonial theory; specific impairments; professional degree


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