Models of support for students with disabilities

Williams M, Pollard E, Langley J, Houghton A-M, Zozimo J |   | Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE) | Nov 2017

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This report presents the findings of the first phase of a two-part study into the levels of support for disabled students across the higher education (HE) sector in 2016/17.

The research, conducted by IES and reseachers from Researching Equity, Access and Participation at Lancaster University's Department of Education Research, also assessed the progress made by higher education institutions (HEIs) towards an inclusive social model of support. The research was commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and sits in a context of a rise in the numbers of disabled students; changes in the responsibility of funding for individual students towards providers; and movements in the model of disability towards a social model from a more medical model.

The research, led by IES, involved an online survey of 137 providers in receipt of HEFCE additional funding, of more than £20,000, to develop inclusive teaching approaches to support disabled students. In-depth case studies were also undertaken with 13 providers, which gathered detailed insights and feedback from 59 individuals in various roles.

The report's findings suggest that there is a general sense across HE providers that training and organisation for staff to support disabled students is something that they are doing well. Likewise, providers reported that inclusive curriculum design and teaching and learning practices were also areas where they were doing well. The report does, however, point to areas where providers highlighted need for improvement and future development. The use of assistive technology was identified as a priority for the future by 30 per cent of providers. This echoes providers' thoughts with regards to other technological support for disabled students.

The report also contains useful guidance for HE providers, drawn from the findings of the research and feedback from the sector and its institutions. These recommendations include:

  • using champions to promote inclusive practice;
  • identifying alternative funding streams to resource longer-term efforts for inclusion;
  • improving accessibility of digital resources; and
  • raising awareness of inclusive approaches and gain true staff engagement through a change in institutional culture.