Disabled Students in Higher Education
by Teresa Tinklin, Sheila Riddell, Alastair Wilson
No. 32, April 2004
Higher education has been through a period of major change since the
mid-1980s. A massive expansion in student numbers has been coupled
with a reduction in funding and greater accountability. Within this
demanding context, pressure has also been applied to institutions to
for disabled people, most recently
Discrimination Act. This Briefing draws on the findings of an ESRC-
funded research project, which aimed to investigate the impact of
multiple policy innovations on the participation and experiences of
disabled students in higher education in Scotland and England between
2001 and 2003.
} Most institutions had staffing and structures in places to develop policy and provision for
} Disabled students had been written into policies in a number of areas including admissions,
estates and building, and into some strategic plans.
} Student case studies revealed gaps between policy and practice, with students encountering
barriers to choice of institution and subject, access to the physical environment and to the
} Addressing barriers to accessing the curriculum will require a culture change within higher
education, but would improve teaching and learning for all students.
} Some disabled students lacked social networks and were uninvolved in extra-curricular
activities, thus reducing opportunities for informal learning.
} Delays in receipt of the Disabled Students Allowance left students at a disadvantage at the start
of their courses.
} The proportion of disabled students declaring dyslexia almost doubled between 1995/6 and
1999/00. It is likely that this reflects increased incentives to disclose dyslexia over this time
} The label ‘disabled’, which students must adopt to qualify for the Disabled Students Allowance
and the pr