Universities exaggerate dyslexia epidemic for own gain, expert claims

September 10, 2004

Dyslexia may be being overdiagnosed in undergraduates to enable universities to boost exam results and get specialised support, the general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists has said.

Brian Harrison-Jennings told The Times Higher : "Universities are not centres of altruism. They want to get more students on the roll and more course fees. And the dispensations with dyslexia help them to increase their pass rates in exams. It should not be possible to get dispensations by having a disability diagnosed by someone who is in the pay of an institution."

The association, which wants the Department for Education and Skills to look into the problem, is also worried by the rising number of cases of students being diagnosed as dyslexic at university and then suing their local authority for not spotting the disability.

Mr Harrison-Jennings thinks dyslexia should be diagnosed only by educational psychologists employed by a local authority. "It is the only independent, objective way. Local dyslexia associations are not independent - they have to pay staff. It is not in their interests to say a child does not have dyslexia."

Dyslexia has become a big issue on campus since the implementation of part four of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act. This means that universities cannot discriminate against disabled people in admissions or in the services they provide. There is, however, no agreed definition of dyslexia. Mr Harrison-Jennings said some definitions included clumsiness as well as spelling and reading problems.

But Ross Cooper, a dyslexia expert at London South Bank University, said the disability was more likely to be underdiagnosed than overdiagnosed. He added that there were "vested interests all over the place in dyslexia that carried a danger of distortion". "Local authority-employed educational psychologists have an agenda, too - local authorities cannot afford to support too many people with dyslexia. In my experience, most diagnoses of individual students are done with a huge amount of care."

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