Numbers of Students with Disabilities Studying in Higher Education in Ireland 2015/16

UNSPECIFIED (2017) Numbers of Students with Disabilities Studying in Higher Education in Ireland 2015/16.


This report not only gives us an overview of the participation rates of students with disabilities in the higher education sector, but allows us to see the developments, trends and patterns emerging. The findings for the academic year 2015/16 indicate that the diversity and equality policies in Higher Education Institutions are effective and that the numbers have risen. There are now a total of 11,244 students across 25 responding institutions representing 5.2% of the total student population. This is a 4% increase on the previous year and points to an upward trend which is extremely positive. The inclusion of a diversity of students in higher education including students with disabilities is complex in terms of managing difference and in terms of changing the processes and structures within the institutions. This report shows that students with disabilities are succeeding in getting into all courses and this has implications for administration, admissions, placement, teaching
and learning, transition to work and all other spheres of institutional life. A diverse student profile requires new thinking, new approaches and new solutions. Disability and access officers within institutions have been at the forefront of pushing for change and in working collaboratively with other staff across other functions to resolve issues. However, while this picture is undoubtedly encouraging, the report signposts a number of persistent trends and barriers which must raise questions for institutions and the education system as a whole. -- Why are the numbers of students in higher education who are blind or visually impaired decreasing? -- Why are so many students with disabilities in higher education drawn to Humanities and Arts in such numbers? -- Why are students with disabilities under-represented on part-time courses? -- Why are students with disabilities not considering post graduate courses at the same rate as non-disabled graduates? -- These questions reach back into the second level system of education and in particular, highlight the impact on students with disabilities of an education system reliant on competitive written examinations as an entry mechanism for higher education. It also raises concerns about the career guidance received by students with disabilities in second level - concerns which were mirrored in recent AHEAD research into the transition experience of students with visual impairments. These students need to be informed and encouraged to look at the upcoming employment opportunities in occupational areas such as STEM, Financial Services, Health Sciences, Manufacturing and Leisure industries as identified in the Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025. The challenge for higher education is to respond holistically to this changing context of diversity and to ensure it is everyone’s job and not just the role of the Disability /Access Officer to include and support students. While Disability/Access officers have a vital role to play in the diversity strategy of the institution it is vital that they work with key players to identify the barriers and gaps, and to be innovative and flexible in finding solutions that are sustainable and appropriate for the institution.

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