Investigating the Experiences of Transgender Students in Higher Education in the UK

Regan, Lynne Mary (2022). Investigating the Experiences of Transgender Students in Higher Education in the UK. EdD thesis The Open University.



Negotiating the university environment can be difficult for many students but for transgender students there can be additional hurdles. With university often being the first experience of real independence for young people it may also be a place where young trans people feel they can be themselves for the first time, as they navigate an environment away from family and friendship ties from the past.

Transgender studies is a growing field, yet there is very little published research into the experiences of trans students in higher education (HE) in the UK.

This study employed a transformative paradigm and used qualitative methods to increase understanding of trans students’ experiences in this area. An online survey of 164 trans students investigated the breadth of experiences across different higher education institutions (HEIs), and remote one-to-one interviews with seven students allowed for in-depth exploration of trans students' perspectives and voices. The study explored the challenges that these students faced around themes of harassment, bullying and transphobia; inclusion/exclusion; representation in the curriculum; and institutional facilities and administration. The study also investigated eight HEI transgender student policies to identify how/whether the needs of this student group are being met.

Feelings of segregation and otherness were illustrated by difficulties changing names and/or gender markers on HEI systems and insufficient gender-neutral facilities on campus. A lack of trans representation in the curriculum was clear and particular issues were identified regarding professional health science courses. Obstacles accessing mental health support services were also revealed.

Key findings were that there is a disconnect between what policies say and what trans students experience, and exclusion of this student group as a result of institutional cisnormativity. The research provided insights into the effect of this disconnect and suggested areas of improvement for professional practice, provision of support, and policy and procedure implementation.

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