The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing, but disabled students remain an underrepresented group and concerns have been expressed about the support provided for these students.
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The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing. In 2018/19 308,000 higher education students said that they had a disability of some kind, this was 16.2% of all home students. The number of students with a known disability has increased by 82,000 or 36% since 2014/15. Much of this increase has been in those reporting a mental health condition.
In 2018/19 the most common type of reported disability was ‘specific learning difficulties’ – this includes dyslexia, dyspraxia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAD(H)D, the next most common was mental health conditions. The number of students reporting they have a mental health condition has increased by more than 150% since 2014/15
Support is provided for disabled students by higher education providers (HEPs) through reasonable adjustment and disability services and by the Government through Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). 58,600 students from England received DSAs in 2018/19.
Disabled people are underrepresented in higher education and disabled students in higher education have somewhat worse outcomes from higher education than non-disabled students. Students with a disability are more likely to drop-out of courses and those that finish their degree tend to have lower degree results; in 2016/17 a lower proportion of UK disabled students were awarded a first or upper second-class degree than those without a reported disability. Employment outcomes are also worse for disabled students than for non-disabled students. These findings hold even after other factors such as prior attainment, gender, age and ethnicity are taken into account.
In 2016 the Government reformed DSAs to improve value for money and rebalance the distribution of responsibility for disabled students between higher education providers and the Government. The reforms included bringing in a £200 contribution to the cost of computer hardware. The changes were controversial, however an evaluation report on the reforms published three years after their implementation found that after the reforms overall DSA support was broadly meeting the needs of students.
On 6 July 2020 Michelle Donelan, the Minister of State for Universities, announced that there would be a further change to the DSA and from 2021/22 the four separate allowances of the DSA would be combined into one allowance and the maximum allowance would be £25,000 per year – this reform would bring the DSA into line with the postgraduate DSA.
Information on related subjects is set out in these library briefing papers:
- CBP 8561, Post-16 Special Educational Needs FAQs, 17 May 2018
- CBP 8593, Support for students with mental health issues in higher education in England, 21 August 2019
- CBP 7444, Reform of the Disabled Students’ Allowance in England, 5 January 2016
The Office for Students recently published an Insight brief Beyond the bare minimum: Are universities and colleges doing enough for disabled students?