Student disability is on the funding councils' agenda. Alison Goddard reports
Disabled students do not receive all the benefits due to them, data published this week imply.
Just 1.4 per cent of students receive disability benefit, according to figures from the higher education funding councils. Between 4 per cent and 5 per cent of the student population is believed to have disabilities.
It is the first time that the funding councils have collected data on student disability. The Disability Discrimination Act was extended to cover further and higher education institutions in September. Since then, universities have had to make "reasonable adjustment" to accommodate disabled students and to ensure they are not treated "less favourably".
The arts are popular with students claiming disabled students' allowance. More than 5 per cent of the student population at institutions such as the Glasgow School of Art, the North East Wales Institute, the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College and the Falmouth College of Arts receive disability benefit.
Plymouth University has the highest proportion of disabled students, at 4.5 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, the universities of Birmingham, Gloucestershire and Huddersfield, along with St George's Hospital Medical School, seem to have no disabled students.
The figures are likely to under-represent the extent of student disability since they cover only those receiving disabled students' allowance. Not all students who consider themselves disabled receive the allowance.
Barbara Waters, chief executive of Skill, the national bureau for students with disabilities, said: "We welcome the performance indicators, but the figures here are surprisingly low. There may be people with mental-health difficulties or dyslexia who cannot buy something to help and just need good teaching."
She added that the low percentage of students claiming disability benefit could be related to large numbers having "unseen" disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes or asthma. She expressed concern that those with such disabilities might not be claiming the benefit because of lack of knowledge about the support available or because they feared being stigmatised. She called on institutions to ensure that all students from the pre-admissions stage onwards were made aware of disability support.
Mike Adams, director of the National Disability Team, said: "These performance indicators put disability on the map. With the new legislation coming in, institutions will have to take disability seriously.
"If you look at the percentage breakdown of disabled students relating to the disabled students' allowance, about 70 per cent of claims are from dyslexic students. Because of the nature of the impairment, there is a greater number of students doing arts, design and engineering."
A spokesman for the Higher Education Funding Council for England said that the disability indicator should be treated with caution because it depended on how "disability" was defined.
The disability data are the latest measure to be added to the performance indicators for each of the nation's 170 institutions. The indicators, which the funding councils publish annually, examine the social composition of the student body, the dropout rate, the employability of graduates and other aspects of provision.
Many of the indicators have benchmarks so that institutions can compare their performances. This year, for England, the benchmark for participation by underrepresented groups was adjusted to take account of where students come from as well as subject mix and entry qualifications.
The tables on this page list institutions that put clear blue water between their achievement and their benchmarks in five areas: widening access as measured by the percentage whose home area is known to have a low proportion of young people in higher education; widening access as measured by the percentage of students whose parents' occupation is classed as skilled manual, semi-skilled or unskilled; projected dropout rate over the course; percentage receiving disabled students' allowance; and percentage in work six months after graduation.
Institutions with fewer than 1,000 students have been excluded. Most of the institutions identified here were deemed to have made a statistically significant difference in attracting and retaining poor or disabled students or turning out employable graduates.
But there are exceptions. Despite having dropout rates far lower than their benchmarks, the universities of Cambridge and Bristol were not deemed to have achieved significantly and neither, at the other end of the scale, was Imperial College London. Similarly, the University of Westminster was not deemed to have significantly poorly performed in the employability stakes, while the universities of Wolverhampton and Huddersfield were not judged to be significantly good. (Huddersfield was one of several universities with the same employability rate and benchmark; it was included because it had the highest response rate to the first destinations-of-graduates survey.) The tables highlight the problem of assessing how well a university is doing at attracting underrepresented students by using their home postcode. Institutions receive cash for each student they attract from postcodes with low-participation rates. But Queen's University, Belfast, appears poor at attracting students from poor postcode areas but excellent at attracting students from low socioeconomic groups. The system is being reformed to take into account the previous educational achievement and the age of the student.
BEST AND WORST OF THE BUNCH
BEST AT RECRUITING FROM POOR POSTCODES
WORST AT RECRUITING FROM POOR POSTCODES
7% 9% _
BEST AT RECRUITING FROM LOW SOCIAL CLASS
WORST AT RECRUITING FROM LOW SOCIAL CLASS
BEST FOR RETENTION
WORST FOR RETENTION
University College Northampton
BEST AT RECRUITING DISABLED STUDENTS
Wales College of Medicine
North East Wales Institute
University College Chichester
WORST AT RECRUITING DISABLED STUDENTS
Bishop Grosseteste College
St George's Hospital Medical School
BEST FOR GRADUATE EMPLOYABILITY
Response rate Actual Benchmark
75% 95% 90%
84% 97% 93%
83% 98% 95%
76% 93% 91%
86% 94% 92%
WORST FOR GRADUATE EMPLOYABILITY
Response rate Actual Benchmark
83% 85% 91%
74% 88% 92%
83% 85% 88%
83% 86% 89%
83% 87% 90%
Ranked by the percentage difference between actual achievement and benchmark
Full league tables for each category will be available in the Statistics section of The THES website from January 2003.
Original data source: HEFCE