Rise in disabled grant uptake

January 30, 2004

There has been a leap in the number of students in receipt of the disabled students' allowance, a conference heard this week.

According to the latest performance indicators from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the proportion of students in receipt of the allowance has increased from 1.5 per cent in 2000-01 to 2.1 per cent in 2001-02.

Kevin Whitsun, head of widening participation at Hefce and keynote speaker at a Universities UK conference on implementing the Disability Discrimination Act, said: "It is hard to know why this has increased. It could be the heightened awareness as a result of the 2002 act."

Barbara Waters, chief executive of Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, welcomed the rise but said that universities must not be complacent.

"Universities must work to continually improve their services for disabled students. Student feedback must be taken into account and shared with the university as a whole - not just the disability officer," she said.

Ms Waters said that Skill would campaign to ensure that the needs of disabled students were properly met by the Office for Fair Access, provision for which is about to go through Parliament after the higher education bill passed its second reading on Tuesday.

She said: "At the moment, the bill says universities must provide Offa with provision for the 'promotion of higher education' or 'the promotion of equality of opportunity in connection with access to higher education'. We want to know why the 'or' is there."

Ms Waters said Skill would campaign to ensure this section of the bill was clarified to ensure that disabled students were fully included in Offa's remit.

The Disability Discrimination Act came into force in September 2002, imposing a duty on universities and colleges to make "reasonable adjustment" to accommodate disabled students and to ensure they were not treated "less favourably".

In September last year, the duty was extended to auxiliary aids and services. By 2005, all universities will have to adapt physical features, such as buildings, to meet the needs of disabled students.

A draft bill is being formulated to amend the 2002 act. It will place responsibility on public bodies to positively promote disability equality issues.

Mr Whitsun said: "The new legislation will help us to shift our attention to the area beyond 'reacting' to 'positively promoting'."

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