1. This document presents the key outcomes of our review of our policy as it relates to disabled students. It provides an overview of the progress the sector has made since our guidance was published in 1999 and areas for development. There have been a number of legislative changes since we last issued guidance, so the recommendations for institutions in this document are intended to help them meet their amended legal duties.
2. The document also presents our future policy and strategy with regard to our support to the sector in meeting the entitlements of disabled students, and sets out good practice for institutions.
3. The document is intended to help higher education institutions (HEIs), those further education colleges directly funded by HEFCE, and sector organisations, in developing their strategy, provision, and support for disabled students, within the context of a social model of disability.
4. We decided to undertake a comprehensive review of our policy because there have been a number of legislative changes since we produced guidance for the sector on supporting disabled students in 1999 ('Guidance on base-level provision for disabled students in higher education institutions', HEFCE 99/04). We were keen to provide a more up-to-date picture that better reflected the issues currently facing institutions and the progress that had been made. In addition, our funding for the Disability Equality Partnership (DEP) to support the sector in meeting the needs of disabled students was due to cease in December 2008. We therefore believed that a thorough review of our policy would be timely.
5. This review of our policy was commissioned jointly with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. It included research to establish the progress made in the provision and support of disabled students and to provide information on institutional policies and practices, identifying examples of good practice. The review also included an appraisal of our funding method for the mainstream disability allocation and an evaluation of the DEP, which was funded by us to provide support to the sector.
Outcomes of the review
There has been significant progress in support for disabled students but further work is needed to embed this support and move towards disability equality
6. The evidence from the research and evaluation carried out as part of the review shows that there have been significant developments in institutional support to meet the entitlements of disabled students since our original guidance to the sector in 1999. Disability issues are regularly considered across a range of institutional functions and processes. There is also evidence of widespread commitment and innovation among key staff in institutions and there are many examples of good practice.
7. Although a lot of positive change has been achieved, there are still areas in which improvements could be made. The review suggests that support for disabled students is not consistent across the sector and is not yet embedded in many institutions. There is also some evidence suggesting that the entitlements of some disabled students may not always be being fully met.
8. In institutions where disability support is embedded, practices are moving towards inclusivity. Inclusivity limits the use of additional practices for disabled students and adapts routine practices to meet the needs of all students. When practices have become inclusive, the term disability support has less relevance and is referred to as disability equality. We fully support advancement towards inclusivity and endorse it as good practice for all institutions to move towards.
9. We aim to build on the successes to date highlighted by the review, and to enhance links with broader equality and widening participation agendas. We will continue to work with our partners so that disability support is more consistent across the sector and moves from being a specialist service within institutions to being mainstreamed and embedded at every level. As part of this we will work with our partners to develop inclusive institutional cultures that embody a social model of disability and are anticipatory, proactive and flexible in nature.
There are some areas of the new legislation that are challenging and where further support might be welcomed
10. The evidence from the research carried out as part of our review showed that, since the introduction of the Disability Equality Duty (DED) in academic year 2005-06, the vast majority of institutions are complying fully with the legislation. However the results of a survey suggested that a very small number of institutions may have failed to meet all of the component parts of the DED. Areas that some institutions find challenging in some respects include:
- involving disabled students in the production of their Disability Equality Scheme (DES)
- either producing an annual report or making the annual report publicly available and easily accessible
- data monitoring: appropriate collection of data concerning disabled students is taking place in many institutions but the extent to which these data are monitored and acted upon in some institutions appears to be limited.
11. The research identified examples of good practice within some HEIs of involving disabled students in the development of their DES but this was proving to be a real challenge for many other institutions despite their best efforts to secure such involvement.
12. We would like to remind institutions that they have a legal duty under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the DED to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people and to make anticipatory adjustments to meet the entitlements of disabled students. Institutions are legally required to involve disabled students in the production of their DES and to produce an annual report in relation to the actions and targets and to make this publicly available and easily accessible. Institutions can contact the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) for support in meeting the DED.
13. We will continue to work with the ECU to provide further support to institutions in meeting legislative requirements and develop specific projects to address the challenges being faced.
Sensitive practices may lead to an increase in disclosure rates and take-up of Disabled Students' Allowance
14. The evidence from the research carried out as part of the review found evidence suggesting that sensitive approaches throughout the student life-cycle led to a rise in disclosure rates and take-up of Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) in certain institutions. There appears to be a link between claiming DSA and attainment and completion rates, so we will continue to work with our partners to provide support for institutions in this area. We will also undertake further work to identify practice that encourages greater levels of disclosure and increases in the take-up of DSA.
There are inconsistencies in national data sets
15. There are measurement and classification issues that make it difficult to research and compare data on disabled students. These include differing definitions of disability, a lack of consensus about disability subsets and an inconsistency of classification.
16. Addressing inconsistencies in national data sets is complex and requires a long-term approach. The definition of data on disability needs to be agreed at a national level and working across the education sector. The Information Standards Board exists to facilitate such work and we will bring the issues identified in our review to the attention of the Board.
There is a continued need for a specialist disability support service for the sector
17. The review has also shown that the support provided by the individual organisations that formed the DEP was highly regarded by the sector and there is a continued need for a specialist disability support service. However, the evaluation of the DEP revealed that there was little value added by the partnership arrangement in providing this support. As a result a decision was taken to discontinue the partnership as an organising structure when its contract ended in December 2008. Since then we have continued to fund the individual organisations to provide support to the sector in meeting the entitlements of disabled students.
Our funding methodology remains fit for purpose and our mainstream disability allocation has a leverage effect for other funding
18. The review did not indicate that our funding method should be fundamentally revised. Although a small number of the HEIs surveyed indicated that fluctuations in the funding had some impact on planning, the majority view was that the funding had a positive effect in leveraging in additional institutional resource and commitment. However, we are aware that the volatility in the method can sometimes affect planning within institutions and so we will keep it under review as part of the broader review of our teaching funding.
Our strategy and future support for the sector
19. Our review has found that the objectives of our policy as it relates to disabled students remain fit for purpose. Our policy to support and increase the participation of disabled students will continue to be a central part of our widening participation policy but is embedded throughout our organisation alongside the broader equality and diversity agenda.
20. We will continue to:
- build on the successes in the sector to date
- recognise the additional costs associated with recruiting and supporting disabled students and maintain the overall stability of funding through our mainstream disability allocation
- fund specialist disability support services for the sector through the work of Action on Access, the Higher Education Academy and the Equality Challenge Unit
- work with our partners to support the sector in meeting the entitlements of disabled students and in other key areas for development, and to move towards disability equality and inclusive cultures.
21. No action is required in response to this document.