Following a six-month inquiry by cross-party think tank Policy Connect and the Higher Education Commission, and co-chaired by Lord David Blunkett, a newly released report makes recommendations to ensure a more inclusive university experience for disabled students.
Arriving at Thriving: Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all recommends steps for government and university leaders to take to improve the experiences of disabled students, supporting young people to progress from the classroom to the workplace.
The key recommendations are:
- A senior leader in every university to take responsibility for driving change to improve the experiences of disabled students
- Higher education providers to undertake a review of disabled students’ access to teaching and learning
- The Office for Students to require universities to include information in their Access and Participation Plans about the training they provide academic and professional staff, describing how this addresses disability inclusion
- The Office for Students to conduct and collate research on the extent to which higher education providers monitor and reduce the administrative burden on their disabled students
- The government to create a new system to support disabled people from the classroom to the workplace
- Reform the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) to align it with the government’s objective of empowering and supporting disabled people
- Disabled students should receive a grant from Student Finance to assist with their financial burden
- Government to fund independent support for disabled students in higher education going through a complaints procedure
- Students’ unions to take on the access and inclusion of disabled students as a priority
- The government to monitor the provision, quality and cost of student accommodation, with a particular view to the experiences of disabled students
- The Office for Students to implement a strategy for monitoring the qualitative experiences of disabled students in higher education
- The government to launch an information and awareness campaign for schools and colleges about ‘disabled student’ status, disclosure, and the DSA
Access for all
The inquiry, chaired by Lord David Blunkett, Kathryn Mitchell, vice-chancellor of the University of Derby, and Lord Philip Norton, chair of the Higher Education Commission, identified that many of the disabled students surveyed said they aren’t able to access teaching and learning fully.
26% said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel excluded from social activities because of a lack of disability awareness
A quarter (26%) of 513 respondents rated the accessibility of their course as just one or two out of five. The same number said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel excluded from social activities because of a lack of disability awareness.
Lord David Blunkett commented: “Having had personal experience of being a student without sight, I understand the challenges all too well. While huge strides have been made in terms of accessibility, there is still more to be done. In order to make real change, we must listen to disabled students themselves, and learn from them to find solutions to the barriers they face. This report demonstrates that, when we listen, improvements can be made – and never more so than today.”
To make real change, we must listen to disabled students themselves, and learn from them to find solutions to the barriers they face – Lord David Blunkett
Jisc CEO, Paul Feldman, a member of the inquiry’s steering group, added: “COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of technology in enabling widespread access to education, and this report shows that, for disabled students, digital plays a critical role in delivering a successful and inclusive university experience. Many disabled students still face barriers, and some still don’t have full access to teaching and learning. That is unacceptable given the technology that could support them is readily available.”
I particularly support the Inquiry’s recommendation that universities should review disabled students’ access to teaching and learning. This is crucial in supporting educational attainment and boosting outcomes – Paul Feldman, CEO, Jisc
On the use of assistive technologies, Feldman commented: “There are great examples of innovation in the HE sector, but there is more to be done. I particularly support the Inquiry’s recommendation that universities should review disabled students’ access to teaching and learning. This is crucial in supporting educational attainment and boosting outcomes, and should be viewed part of every institution’s inclusion agenda.”