Special needs net spreads

February 10, 1995

Facilities designed for students with special needs are having a wider impact than envisaged, a survey has found.

The report, Access to Higher Education: Students with Special Needs, examines the first year (1993/94) of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's special-needs initiative. During the year Pounds 3 million was provided for projects in 38 universities and colleges, and in 1994/95 a further Pounds 2.8 million will go on 49 projects.

Study support or resource centres set up for groups such as the physically disabled have frequently become a focus for all students with a disability, said the report. In one case a centre with a target of reaching 100 students attracted 172 covering all categories of special needs. The provision of special counselling for dyslexics, for example, has led to previously undiagnosed sufferers coming forward for assistance.

Many projects gained momentum from demand, although it could also create difficulties as the immediate needs of students overwhelmed longer-term considerations. "At the sharp end, people take precedence over policies," said the report.

Many institutions found that addressing special-needs policy had general implications. Good quality practice for the disabled, such as making lecture notes available or providing annotated reading lists, helped the student body as a whole.

Graeme Davies, chief executive of HEFCE, said the report showed the broad range of initiatives, but added: "There remains much to be done in order to allow students with special needs, of all types, to participate fully and on an equal basis with others in higher education."

The survey found that the pump-priming element of the programme had limited success, with some institutions failing to continue support or address the issues raised by projects. But in others "projects have been embedded in the structures and finances of the institutions and will continue to grow and evolve".

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