A research partnership devised to reduce the barriers facing disabled university applicants, has received a Pounds 50,000 development grant from the Further Education Funding Council. The group of 11 partner institutions, including the universities of Coventry and Warwick, will be led by Hereward College, the national college for disabled students in further education. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, only 30 of the 320,000 students who matriculated in 1997-98 had disabilities that required personal care and support, while a further 464 places went to students with wheelchairs.
Mike Thompson, head of student services at Hereward, said universities need to encourage more disabled people to study. "It is not just a question of helping universities to improve their support for disabled learners. We need to look at the interests and expectations of disabled people to see if we can increase the level of participation based on real information, not just supposition," Mr Thompson said.
As a student with high support requirements can expect to pay more than Pounds 18,500 for care costs alone, the problems facing students with disabilities are financial as well as physical.
Mr Thompson hopes any findings from the 12-month project will be used to improve and expand Hereward's distance-learning programme, which allows disabled students resident at the college to link up with visual arts degree courses at Leeds University's Bretton Hall.
"We would love to offer more disenfranchised students the opportunity to study at other universities. We hope that by linking up with other regional institutions we can apply our understanding on a larger scale."
Sally Angell, a sociology and criminal justice graduate from the University of Plymouth, joined a seminar for employers at the university last week to raise awareness of the benefits of employing disabled graduates.