The Future of Higher Education
Written evidence from Skill
Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities is a national charity that promotes opportunities to empower young people and adults with any kind of disability to realise their potential in further, continuing and higher education, training and employment throughout the UK. Skill works by providing information and advice to individuals, promoting good practice and influencing policy in partnership with disabled people, service providers and policy makers. Skill is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee.
For more information about us visit www.Skill.org.uk
Summary of submission
· Disabled people are underrepresented in Higher Education (HE). In addition disabled people are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty. It is crucial therefore that all Higher Education Institutions (HEI) take steps to widen access for disabled people by setting disability related outcomes, within their access agreements with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).
· Disabled students often incur extra costs associated with their disability while in HE such as travel, equipment and personal care. In addition recent proposals to reduce the budget for Personal Independence Payments (the successor to Disability Living Allowance) risks leaving disabled students with an even greater financial burden. It is important that the offer for disabled people from HEI, OFFA and the new National Scholarship Programme is structured to offset the financial disadvantage faced by disabled people.
· It is crucial that funding is in place to ensure that disabled students get the reasonable adjustments they are entitled to in order to access their study and fulfil their potential.
· It is important that progress towards inclusive teaching and learning continues and that the structure empowers HEIs to embed disability equality in everything they do.
· It is critical that an Equality Impact Assessment is published looking at the impact of increased fees on disabled people as well as proposals on widening participation and how the system will support disabled students to access teaching and learning and fulfil their potential.
Widening access for disabled people
Disabled people are underrepresented in HE. This is something acknowledged by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) in its recent guidance.  In addition the case for widening access for disabled people to HE is well evidenced. Labour force statistics show that the higher the qualification the lower the unemployment rate:
· 15% of disabled graduates lack but want to work
· 33% of disabled people with qualifications below GCSE grade C lack but want to work 
· However, disabled people are half as likely to hold a degree-level qualification 
Despite this there has been little reference to disabled students. In recent debates on access to HE, the focus instead being within the broad definition of those from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’. This is concerning as disabled people are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty. 
In the recently published guidance from OFFA: ‘How to produce an access agreement for 2012/13’ disabled students are mentioned only twice (one of those being in the glossary). The lack of specific reference to this group particularly in the context of access agreements is very concerning.
Our past experience has shown that unless specific reference to widening access for disabled students is made, they continue to be overlooked and their interests neglected.
It is crucial therefore that all HEIs, set out disability related outcomes within their access agreements with OFFA. In addition disability must be a key element within the monitoring and evaluation of access arrangements.
Additional costs associated with having a disability
Disabled students often incur extra costs associated with their disability while in HE such as travel, equipment and personal care. In addition they are less likely to be able to take on part time work. Other people acquiring a disability later in life and wishing to retrain as a result may find themselves penalised financially.
In addition this must be seen in the context of proposed cuts of 20% to the new Personal Independence Payment (the replacement for Disability Living Allowance).  Currently DLA meets many of the additional living costs that disabled students have. One student described how:
‘DLA helps me to subsidise my accommodation at university. Most of the accessible rooms in halls of residence are more expensive than the non-accessible ones. I would not be able to afford an accessible room if I didn’t receive DLA’
In addition our members including HEI s and partners inform us that disabled students have higher incidence of repeat years compared to non-disabled. This is not due to a lack of ability but often due to time away from study because of a disability or medical condition. This of course would lead to a further year’s funding in terms of fees and loan s and an increase in debt .
It is important therefore for the Committee to look at how the offer for disabled people from HEI, OFFA and the new National Scholarship Programme can be structured to offset the financial disadvantage faced by disabled people.
Unless this is looked at in detail it might be argued that under the Equality Act 2010 the rising of fee levels could be seen as indirectly discriminating against disabled people.
Support for Disabled Students
160,955 students declared a disability within H igher Education (H E ) during the 2008/9 academic year .  However , there was no reference to them in the Browne review and there has been little or no reference to them since. Ensuring that this group have the support they need to realise their potential is absolutely crucial.
Currently disabled students can access Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). This covers costs associated with accessing study, such as information in alternative formats, a scribe to assist during class or assistive software. These are important in meeting HEI’s obligation to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people as laid out in the Equality Act 2010.
Funding for these reasonable adjustments has proved critical. Indeed Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) statistics show that disabled students in receipt of DSA are less likely to drop out than disabled students not in receipt of DSA. 
It is crucial that whatever reforms happen to the HE structure, funding must be in place to ensure that disabled students get the reasonable adjustments they are entitled to in order to access their study and fulfil their potential.
Continuing progress towards Inclusive learning and an inclusive culture within Higher Education
Something which remains paramount is to continue the progression towards creating an inclusive culture of teaching and learning within Higher Education (HE). There has been significant progress in this area with support from the Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act 2010 in that HEI have an ‘anticipatory duty’ to make reasonable adjustments. Creating an inclusive culture of teaching and learning is ultimately more efficient and cost effective leading to fewer reasonable adjustments applied reactively. It also helps raise awareness and address some of the needs of students who do not wish to declare their disability.
Principally, in moving forward, HEFCE’s review into Disability Policy highlighted the importance of:
· Equality Impact Assessments as a key tool to embedding equality and diversity;
· taking an anticipatory proactive approach to providing inclusive education rather than reactive reasonable adjustments; and,
· recognising that disabled students belong to other socio economic groups and that any approach should be considered in terms of the other ‘Protected characteristics’ to use the terminology of the Equality Act 2010. 
It is critical therefore that a clear focus remains on the importance of creating an inclusive culture where disability is embedded into everything HEI do.
Involving disabled students in the Equality Impact Assessment
While Skill understands that BIS has published an ‘Interim Equality Impact Assessment’ it will be important in meeting the Public Sector Equality Duty to publish a fuller assessment of the impact of reforms on equality. This should involve not only consultation with key stakeholders including Skill and other organisations representing disabled people, but disabled people themselves both current students but those aspiring to go into HE.
In particular the assessment should explore some of the issues raised in this document including:
· the impact of higher fees on disabled people. This should include the impact of higher fees on those with high support needs and higher costs associated with their disability, the impact on people acquiring a disability and going into HE as a way of retraining, whether some disabled people might take longer to complete because of a disability;
· how the proposals on widening access will affect disabled people; and,
· how the new funding structure will support disabled students once in HE to access and achieve their potential.
10 March 2011
 How to produce access agreements 2012/13, OFFA, March 2011
 Labour Force Statistics May 2010
 Office for Disability Issues, Key facts and figures. Analysis of Labour Force Survey, Quarter 2, 2008
 State of the nation report: poverty, worklessness and welfare dependency in the UK, May 2010, DWP
 The Impact Report details the is available to download on the DWP website: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/welfare-reform/legislation-and-key-documents/welfare-reform-bill-2011/
 Higher Education Statistics Agency 2008/9
 The dropout rate for disabled students in receipt of DSA was 5.6%, the dropout rate for disabled students not in receipt of DSA was 8.6%. Taken from HEFCE analysis of HESA student records in 2008 . Available on the Office for Disability Issues website http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/ro a dmap-to-disability-equality/indicators.php#a9
 HEFCE review of its policies as it relates to disabled students’ HEFCE (December 2009)
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