The number of students with disabilities going on to third level education is on the increase, however major barriers remain for many, a new report has found.
The report was published by the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (AHEAD). It found that in the academic year 2013/14, 28 higher education institutions (HEIs) had a total of 9,694 students with disabilities, representing 4.7% of the entire student population.
However, the report noted that the rate of participation among students with disabilities in full-time courses was almost five times the rate in part-time courses - 5.4% vs 1.1%.
Currently, the Minister for Education's Fund for Students with Disabilities, which covers the cost of supports for these students while in third level education, is only available to full-time students.
The report recommended that part-time students with disabilities should have access to the same funding for supports that is granted to full-time students, ‘thus removing a barrier to access'.
"The funding in question is for educational support only. It covers things that students with disabilities need to participate on a level playing field and denying part-time students access to these supports means denying them the chance to reach their educational potential.
"For students with certain types of disabilities, for instance chronic fatigue syndrome, part time study is a much more preferable and manageable study path, but the current funding situation is preventing many students from taking up these options. Those that do go the part-time route may not get the support they need to perform," commented AHEAD executive director, Ann Heelan.
Meanwhile, the report also expressed concern about a fall in the number of deaf/hearing impaired people enrolling in college.
"While the overall numbers of students with disabilities has increased 7% year on year, a worrying trend among the deaf/hearing impaired cohort has seen the numbers enrolled drop by 6% to 271 and they now make up just 2.8% of the total population of students with disabilities, down from 3.2% last year," the report noted.
On the other hand, HEIs have reported ‘more than twice as many blind/visually impaired new entrants in 2013/14 as compared to the previous academic year'.
The report recommended urgent research into the transition of deaf/hearing impaired people from school to third level education ‘to identify their experience and engagement with education'.
The report also noted that students with disabilities are ‘hugely under-represented' in post-graduate courses and those with multiple disabilities ‘are even less likely to progress to that level of study'.
It recommended carrying out a study into this to determine why this is the case and what can be done to improve the situation.
The report can be viewed here