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Challenging academic ableism in higher education – Collaboration between Uniarts Helsinki and Stellenbosch University

In the first week of October 2022, two researchers from Stellenbosch University visited Uniarts Helsinki as part of an ongoing joint project between both institutions, Health, wellbeing and disability narratives in the arts.

Assistant professor Lieketseng Ned and Dr Chioma Osajunwa are members of the Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies within Stellenbosch. Dr Ned’s particular interests are critical disability studies, community-based rehabilitation, indigenous knowledges methodologies and decolonial health and education. Her research interests are well-being and spirituality, policy development and Indigenous Knowledge systems, disability education, transformation and transculturality. At Uniarts Helsinki, the members of this SAFINET group are postdoctoral fellow Francisco Trento, postdoctoral fellow and Academy of Finland fellow Tuulikki Laes and postdoctoral fellow Kai Lehikoinen at Uniarts Helsinki.

The project Health, wellbeing and disability narratives in the arts happen in the context of the SAFINET Network, the Southern African and Finnish Higher Education Institutions’ Network for Health and Wellbeing, within the Culture and Wellbeing sub-area. The project’s overarching aim is to develop anti-ableist higher education practices and policy recommendations within the participant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by employing intercultural notions of arts, health and wellbeing from a decolonial anti-pathologising perspective. To achieve this goal, the project will facilitate joint courses, teacher-student exchange, and workshops and report these achievements in co-authored peer-reviewed research publications.

During their visit, Lieketseng, Chioma and the SAFINET research members from Uniarts Helsinki worked together on developing the overall research protocols of this project, a plan for a scoping review of the literature on the approaches to disability within the context of Finnish and South African higher education institutions. They also met members of other global pilot research projects at Uniarts Helsinki that develop collaborative research between Finland and African countries, such as GINTL.

On Thursday, October 6th, there was a conversation between the SAFINET researchers and the academic community at Uniarts Helsinki, including students, researchers, and teaching staff. During the event, the researchers from both Uniarts Helsinki and Stellenbosch University also gave a short presentation on their research and their role in the research project. The event aimed to facilitate the meeting and networking among students, teachers, and researchers at Uniarts Helsinki and other Finnish institutions interested in decolonial approaches to health, arts and wellbeing, with a strong focus on dismantling academic ableism. Around thirty persons from the Uniarts Helsinki, community came to the event. Together with the researchers, they discussed how academic ableism informs the pedagogical, spatial and curricula settings of higher arts education, expressing the need for policy changes in the university connected to eradicating ableism and colonialism. In March, researchers from Uniarts Helsinki will travel to Stellenbosch and hold a similar workshop in South Africa.


Francisco Trento
Postdoctoral research fellow at The Center for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (CERADA), University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland.

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