Disabled Student Outcomes in the UK: How Higher Ed Can Set the Standard for an Inclusive Workforce

While much progress has been made since the UK & Irish governments passed the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Act 2005, respectively, there is still a long way to go in building truly equitable societies. The pandemic and ensuing economic uncertainty looks set to impact momentum. With an estimated 14.6 million people who have a known disability in the UK and 700,000 people in Ireland we should expect challenges on the horizon in ensuring the job market is accessible for those that need the most support.  

Higher education has a crucial role in leveling societal imbalances, particularly when faced with a widening gap in graduate outcomes between those students with and without a disability. Universities and colleges have a responsibility to put holistic support in place at the start and throughout a student’s education, positively impacting how well prepared they are for the world of work. 

Not Just a Number

From the moment a student steps on campus, having policies, processes, and well-trained staff to help students with a disability navigate the range of available academic and student services can empower them. Roughly 15% of students studying in higher education have a known disability, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). With such a large percentage of students reporting a disability or a specific learning difference, universities and colleges are in a privileged position to be a catalyst for change by equipping students with the qualifications, skills, and confidence to succeed after their studies. Not only will universities and colleges need to build efficiencies and resources to support these students, they should be empowering them with the necessary tools to advocate for themselves during and after university as students progress into graduate employment. 

According to a report from Association of Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) “a team approach is necessary for efficiency and quality support.” This includes disability officers at the core, but requires collaboration between academic staff, counsellors, third party support providers, assistive technology practitioners, and student finance teams. This complex network of individuals is expected to work ever more efficiently within a context of rapidly rising caseloads. The University of Oxford’s 2020-2021 Disability Advisory Service Annual Report demonstrates the acceleration in demand, particularly for exam arrangements, and paints the picture of the higher education sector’s overall need for continued support of a growing disabled student population. 

Post-HE Disabled Student Employment 

When it comes to employability, new data from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) highlights the growing disparity among disabled employees and non-disabled employees. In 2021 the median pay gap was 13.8%, whereas in 2014 disabled employees earned 11.7% less than non-disabled employees. In particular, the ONS identifies that the widest pay gap exists among those on the Autism-spectrum earning 33.5% less than non-disabled employees

Additionally, a report by An Unequal Crisis found in a survey of 6,000 workers that one in four disabled people in work are “currently facing redundancy” with 37% saying that their disability had a large impact on their daily lives. 

In the context of societal headwinds for people with disabilities, further & higher education institutions should be doing everything that they can to ensure physical, social or mental impairments don’t impact attainment levels. An inclusive campus is one that works together to put adjustments in place, promoting diversity, and quickly identifying student needs and provisions that support their studies. 

Using Technology to Support 

A report by Policy Connect and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (AT) found that many disabled students “are leaving education without knowledge of work-based AT provision, without skills to use AT in the workplace, and without the confidence to navigate these issues when starting a new job.” Policy Connect recommends Career Service and Disability Services teams work closer together and provide on-going training for students as they transition into the workforce, specifically around how they can advocate for using assistive technology at work and the laws that protect them.  

The narrative becomes more complex for universities and colleges with large international student populations – who may arrive with cultural differences – or those with multiple campuses or remote learning. Never again should we reach a stage where over half of disabled students consider leaving full-time education, as found by the Disabled Students UK report in 2021. 

With Symplicity Access, further & higher education institutions can effectively provide the necessary services that students with disabilities and learning difficulties need. With our user-friendly platform, universities are able to simplify the delivery of reasonable adjustments to students with a disability for a better user experience, higher accountability, compliance and transparency across the institution plus increased operational efficiency and savings for the university. Additionally, through its intuitive, mobile-friendly student interface, it’s easy for students with a disability to find how they can get the support they need. This allows for effective communication among students, teachers, staff, and family members to ensure that students with a disability can get the critical support they need to succeed academically and beyond. 

For more information about how over 200 universities & colleges worldwide are transforming student services with Symplicity Access, email info@symplicity.com or schedule a conversation. 

Disability Services, employability, higher education, Student Employability, UK, UK students, Accessibility Services, UK universities, Learning Disability, disability recruiting, Student Accessibility, access

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