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Finding the way for Disabled Students in Further Education

Wednesday 13 January 2010 Campaigns News

NUS has released a report about Disabled students’ participation in further education. The aim of the report by the Disabled Students’ Campaign is to increase the number of disabled students in further education and to improve the experience of disabled students.

The report confirms that between 2001/02 and 2007/08 the number of disabled students in participating in further education was fairly stable. However, there is a problem with disabled students’ educational progression; most disabled students are on courses at level one and below while there are far fewer on higher level courses. 

The findings match information from the Labour Force Survey published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).  In the UK there are high percentages of disabled students aged 16-24 who have, as their highest qualification attainment, level one or below, compared to non-disabled students.

The report also looks at those aged 16-24 not in education, employment and training (NEET).   In 2006, disabled people are twice as likely to be in this group as non-disabled people!  The people here are clearly not participating and might benefit from further education if the current provision were adapted to remove the barriers that at present put them off.

NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign believes that it is crucial that disabled people receive the support they need to succeed.  We hope that this report will encourage efforts by government, institutions and students’ unions alike to enhance the experience of disabled students in further education.

Key findings from the investigation into the experience of disabled students in further education:

  • Disabled people aged 16-24 experience inequality in the education system;
  • While overall numbers of disabled students taking part in further education may be rising, in some parts of further education numbers are dropping significantly;
  • Disabled students’ aspirations vary widely, but many still face barriers to their participation in further education; these barriers can harm students’ self-esteem and determination;
  • Disabled students’ experiences – in certain situations it seems that further education, rather than ensuring disabled students to progress, appears to be acting as a form of social care, where the same students repeat courses year after year;
  • Students on level two and three courses showed a different attitude to college life.  While some students had few aspirations (other research confirms that this is prevalent among disabled students) others had high ambitions but had encountered many obstacles to their continued development and their experiences had shaped their aspirations.  These barriers often made them feel isolated and powerless;
  • As a result of their experiences, several focus group members said they would like to try to work to the difficulties removed so that future generations of disabled students did not have to undergo the same negative experiences; the oppression they had lived through had shaped their aspirations.

Action needed

We are calling on the Government, institutions and students unions to:

  • identify two key areas as needing to be improved in further education are the complexity of student funding systems and the inconsistency of information, advice and guidance (IAG);
  • recognise the needs of removing financial barriers and providing more positive IAG for disabled students in order to raise their aspirations and increase their participation at all levels of education;
  • support for individual budgets for support, similar to Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) should be set up in further education.  It should give individual students the right to control their funds;
  • acknowledge that individual budgets should not be alternative to Additional Learning Support (ALS) (this fund goes directly to college for supporting disabled students’ learning needs) but rather a combination of the two should be established;
  • adopt a holistic approach to disabled students’ lives.  This would acknowledge that there is a need for funding to support the students’ wider college life, not just help with the course.

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