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Launch of Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland 2019/20 Report

AHEAD are delighted to launch our report on  Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland for the academic period 2019/20. AHEAD has been researching the participation rates of students with disabilities in higher education for the past 27 years.  AHEAD welcomes the steady rise of the number of students with disabilities in higher education identified through this research. In the academic year of 2019/20 students registered with disability support services represented 6.3% of the total student population of the total student population of the responding higher education institutions. Over the last eleven years, AHEAD’s research has identified that the number of students in higher education engaging with the disability services has risen by over 226% (4,853 in 08/09 to 15,846 in 19/20).

This research has developed due to the continuous support of The Higher Education Authority over the years, as part of their ongoing efforts to promote equal opportunities in higher education in Ireland.

There were a number of key findings and recommendations which AHEAD identified as part of this year’s report which are summarised below;

Profile of Students registered with the disability support/access services by category of disability in 2019/20

‘Breakdown of students registered with disability support/access services by category of disability 2019/20’.  A pie chart that illustrates the breakdown of 15,846 students with disabilities by category of disability in the responding institutions in 2019/20. It is a graphic synopsis of the information that is to follows.  The chart give a clear picture of the concentration of students with disability by category of disability. Students in the specific learning difficulty category making up the largest number at 36.9%  followed by students in the mental health condition category at 16.7% and third largest being students in the significant ongoing illness category at 11.8%.  The lowest, at less than 1%, were in the ‘Other’ category.

 

Top 5 largest number of students with disabilities in higher education in Ireland by category in the academic year 2019/20, shown below as a percentage of all students with disabilities registered with support services;

  • 36.9%  Specific Learning Difficulty,
  • 16.7% Mental Health Condition
  • 11.8%  Significant Ongoing Illness
  • 7.6% Asperger’s/Autism category
  • 6.3% DCD - Dyspraxia category

 

SUMMARY OF Key findings

  • Increase of 226% in the number of students with disabilities registering with the support services in higher education in the last 11 years, now standing at 15,846.
  • A significant percentage of new entrants have a disability but do not disclose and register for support
  • 87% of Students with Disabilities in 2019/20 received one or more exam accommodations.
  • In the last 11 years, the number of students with sensory disabilities has grown by less than half the rate of the students with disabilities more generally.
  • A decrease in the number of mature students with disabilities.
  • A slight increase in the number of postgraduate students with disabilities.

 

"Survey feedback and exam results show a detrimental impact for a number of students with disabilities. However, the reality is more nuanced. For a proportion of students with disabilities, the move to remotely study has been an improved experience compared to their previous position. " Disability Support Staff Member talking about impact of COVID-19

  • 45% increase in the number of students per disability support staff member over the last 8 years.
  • One in five new registrations to support services from students not in their first year of study, reflective of an annual trend.
  • 96% of college disability support staff believe COVID-19 will significantly change disability support provision.

 

" Students were negatively affected due to closure of university in the following ways: change of assessments format e.g. from timed exam to written assessment, isolation from peers and study partners, change of living situations. " Disability Support Staff Member talking about impact of COVID-19

Summary of Recommendations

  • Make the Universal Design of Higher Education a national priority and develop a national charter for Universal Design in Higher Education.

The findings in this report further highlight the need for the higher education sector to prioritise the implementation of universal design (UD) and universal design for learning (UDL) principles in the design and delivery of higher education. While individual supports and services are vital for students with disabilities, the add-on accommodation approach to disability support as the predominant/only means of supporting students with disabilities is no longer a sustainable method of ensuring quality access and participation.

" I hope students will be able to experience a more flexible learning environment going forward, such as being able to access lectures at a time that suits them and review those lectures in their own time. " - Disability Support Staff Member talking about impact of COVID-19

  • Higher Education Institutions should increase levels of resourcing to disability support services to ensure quality and support a whole college approach to inclusion.

To be truly inclusive of students with disabilities and promote the mainstreaming of support to students in line with the goals of the UNCRPD, HEIs must implement universal design and UDL for all students, and provide high quality individual supports for those who need them. Support services need to be sufficiently resourced to both engage in delivering quality-assured reasonable accommodations, and to collaborate across campus and promote more inclusive practice in the mainstream delivery of programmes and services underpinned by the principles of UDL.   

The 45% increase in number of students per disability support staff member in the last 8 years reported in this research, shows that resourcing in these services has not kept pace with the growing number of students who need support. The 85% increase in the number of students per learning support staff member is of equal concern.

  • Set national targets for the participation of students with disabilities in post-graduate study.

Students with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in postgraduate study, a consistent trend in AHEAD research, with just 2.5% of the postgraduate student population registered with disability support services in 2019/20, in comparison to 7.2% of the undergraduate population.

National targets set within the National Access Plan around general participation of students with disabilities in higher education have proven to be very successful in driving participation at an undergraduate level, but this has not been replicated at postgraduate level. This highlights the need for specific targets around postgraduate participation to be set within the next iteration of the National Access Plan.

  • Provide support for part-time learners through SUSI and recognise the added cost of disability in the student grant.

Part-time learning offers a very suitable pathway for many students with disabilities to manage the impact of their disability and continue learning. However, students with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in part-time study, a consistent trend in AHEAD research, with just 1.3% of the part-time student population registered with disability support services in comparison to 7.8% of the full-time population in 2019/20.

Opening eligibility for SUSI (student universal support Ireland) to part-time learners would remove a significant barrier to participation for individuals who may otherwise be unable to engage with further and higher education courses.

Equally, the added cost of living and learning with a disability should be recognised in the redevelopment of SUSI by the Department of Further and Higher Education.

 

Get The Full Report »

 

A NOTE ON ACCESSIBILITY

We have endeavored to make the PDF documents linked above as accessible as possible by incorporating a hierarchical structure using tags, providing alt text for graphs and images (and providing key data in body text) and tagging decorative images as artifacts. In the event that you are still experiencing issues reading this document with screen reading software or other assistive technologies, please contact ahead@ahead.ie to request an alternative version.

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