The number of home students in higher education (HE) with a known disability stood at 17.3% in 2019-201. This figure is increasing year-on-year, with much of it driven by those reporting a mental health condition, but outcomes continue to be worse than for non-disabled students.
We know there are key barriers to disabled students receiving the support they need to access HE, succeed in their studies, and progress to employment or further study. Many of these start during the transition to HE, with students who received support or adjustments at school or college finding the journey confusing and hard to navigate. The level of support offered can also be very different.
An awareness of these challenges led to the development of Go Higher West Yorkshire’s (GHWY) Disabled Learners’ HE Transition Pack. The e-resource provides generic advice and student voice on disabilities as they transition to HE. Produced in partnership with our 13 HE members, it is aimed at disabled students but can also be used by parents/carers and staff to support their young people with HE transition.
The pack is available to download from our website in standard and accessible versions.
Challenges for disabled students transitioning to HE
A report that we commissioned by Advance HE looked into disabled learners’ HE transitions and student experiences. It identified six key transitional barriers, which included:
- Higher levels of anxiety and financial concerns as a result of the young person being removed from a familiar and relatively stable learning setting. They not only have to navigate the increased independence that tends to come with HE but the added factor of going from others helping to manage their disability to taking on new responsibilities, such as booking their own medical appointments.
- The language used around disability. This includes the differences in terminology between school, where ‘special educational needs and disabilities’ (SEND) is used, and HE, where ‘disabled students’ is used.
- The administrative burden of getting support put into place at HE, which can lead to stress and detract from study time and social life. This can result in delays to support being implemented, which has been cited as a factor for students dropping out.2 It is exacerbated by generic HE information not always being tailored for disabled students e.g. it is not clear that they need to apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) alongside Student Finance.
- Stigma and fear that declaring a disability will affect their chances of success at application stage. This is compounded by the transition to HE being the stage at which disabled students become adults. Under GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), this means it is now their responsibility to share information with a HE provider. However, many disabled students assume it is still shared automatically.
This research, and its recommendations, underpinned the development of our transition pack, which was launched at the end of last year. The e-resource aims to guide disabled students to HE, ensuring that unknown barriers become known in order to help facilitate their transition.
GHWY’s Disabled Learners’ HE Transition Pack
Starting HE is a big step, one that often begins a long time before the young people finally arrive there. That is why our transition pack is aimed at students who are still at secondary school or college but are thinking of, or in the process of, applying to university or HE course in a college or conservatoire.
The resource is designed to raise awareness of how disabled students can access appropriate guidance where possible. It captures ‘What do students need?’ and ‘What do HE providers need?’ in order to enhance transition.
In a simple, visually engaging format it helps young people to easily access information about the timelines, processes and support to enable them to progress into a destination of their choice.
It includes key information to support educational staff or parents/carers to understand a student’s/child’s diagnosis (or progress of diagnosis) and how that translates in HE; information on DSA/extra provisions; and a roadmap of the HE application process to support them from start to finish.
It also includes a glossary of common terms used across HE, as we understand how complex the sector can be to navigate, along with top tips and links to useful information, and disabled student stories that may offer useful insight to those starting their HE journey.
The resource was a collaborative output from GHWY’s Action Group for Disabled Students, which includes representatives from six of our member institutions. Special recognition should be given to Kirklees College for the initial idea for a pack; University of Huddersfield for providing content for a parent/carer section; and University of Leeds for creating an accessible version.
The Group will evaluate the effectiveness of the transition pack over the coming months with a focus group of disabled students from across our member institutions. Key feedback will be implemented into our annual refresh of the resource. This will also respond to changes in the HE sector to ensure its information remains accurate and relevant.
GHWY is a partnership of 13 HE providers in West Yorkshire that represent a huge range of higher education options, from universities and HE-in- FE provision, to a specialist training provider and conservatoire.
We strive to help improve the life chances of students and learners, with a focus on under-represented groups, helping them better understand the benefits of – and options for – HE, the available support, and all the various pathways to becoming a HE student.
Advance HE, Go Higher West Yorkshire: Disabled learners’ HE transitions and student experiences (2022)
Susan Darlington, GHWY Partnership Assistant