New AHEAD Research on Numbers of Students with Disabilities in Higher Ed
New AHEAD research has shown that for the first time since records began, students with disabilities now make up over 5% of the total student population in higher education in Ireland. In real terms, this means that in an average university lecture hall with 20 rows seating 400, there will be on average one student with a disability sitting in every row and 20 students with disabilities in a full lecture. Amongst the 6 recommendations made in the report are the building of a learning environment that embeds flexibility and equality into learning and assessment practices in higher education, and the extension of access to funding for educational supports for students with disabilities to those studying part time courses.
Below is a summary of the key findings in the report:
- 27 HEI’s in Ireland identified a total of 10,773 students with disabilities representing 5.1% of the total student population. This represents an 11% rise in the numbers year on year and for the first time since records began, students with disabilities have broken the 5% barrier as a proportion of the total student population.
- 3,016 of these were new entrants, representing 31% of the disabled undergraduate student population. 2,157 of these were final year undergraduates, representing 23% of the disabled student population.
- The number of students with a disability per staff member (disability and learning support staff) has risen 21% year on year to an average of 117 students per staff member. The data suggests that the continuing rise in the numbers of students with disabilities in higher education (19% increase in the last two years) is not being met with a similar increase in staffing levels across the sector.
- When compared with the general student population, a significantly lower proportion of students with disabilities study in the fields of ‘Health & Welfare’ and ‘Education Science’. Interestingly a significantly higher percentage of students with disabilities are studying in the fields of ‘Humanities & Arts’ in comparison to their non-disabled peers.
- The participation rate of Students with Disabilities in full time courses (5.9%) is almost 5 times the participation rate in part time courses (1.3%).
- In terms of disability profile, the vast majority of students with disabilities have a specific learning difficulty (46.9%). However, this cohort has reduced as a percentage of total students with disabilities for the 4th year in a row, falling on average 3.4 percentage points every year for the last four academic years, since it peaked at 60.5% in 2010/11.
- While the total numbers of students with disabilities has risen 11% year on year, the number of students in the Blind/Visually Impaired category actually fell by 2% to 228. They now make up just 2.1% of students with disabilities (down from 2.4% last year). Last year’s Participation Rates Survey reported an increase of new entrants in this category generating positive signs of a change to an upward swing in participation rates for Blind/Visually impaired students. However, given that this survey latest findings show a drop in 16% in blind/visually impaired new entrants to just 54 students, it undermines any previous indicators of a steady upward trend.
- Responding institutions reported a 20% increase in the number of Deaf/Hearing Impaired new entrants in 2014/15 as compared to the previous academic year. Last year’s Participation Rates Report identified a decrease in the number of new entrants in this category. Given that this survey latest findings show an increase in new entrants, it is taken as a positive indicator to an upward swing in participation for Deaf/Hearing Impaired. Whether this constitutes an indicator of a steady upward trend is uncertain at this stage.
- 79% of the disabled student population received an examination accommodation in the academic year 2014/15. Extra time was by far the most common support provided with 71% of students with disabilities receiving extra time in their examinations in 2014/15.
- With regard to choice of assessment, no respondents thought their colleges were implementing the Universal Design for Learning principles ‘well’ or ‘very well’ and 20% thought they were implementing them ‘not well at all’ and were offering ‘no assessment options on any courses’.
- 847 students with disabilities registered with 2 or more disabilities, representing 8.9% of students with disabilities in institutions which provided data on this matter (up from 8% last year). 10% of students with disabilities in the IoT/Other sector have 2 or more disabilities in comparison to 6% of those in the University sector.
- Almost 7% of students with disabilities registered with disability support services after their first year of study in the responding institutions.