Make access to university fairer for disabled people

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What’s the problem?

Disabled people in Scotland can face multiple barriers in trying to access university. We run a national Disabled Students' Helpline, and students along with their families tell us that inadequate additional support to learn at school, interruption to school education from serious illness, and inability to re-locate due to complex needs are just some of the issues that can have an impact on their chances of going to university.

Suley’s story

One of our helpline callers recently shared her experience of trying to get into university with us on film. Suley explained she had to leave school early due to a serious heart condition, before spending the next 16 years trying to get well enough to be able to go to university. Due to her complex health and care needs, Suley could not re-locate and therefore could only access the institution closest to her home. She asked the university if she could provide this 'contextual' information within her application, but the university refused.

Despite having more than the minimum entry requirements that she gained via six years of distance learning, Suley was not offered a place on the course. You can watch Suley's full story online here.

What could make a difference?

If the university recognised disability as a 'contextual indicator', Suley would have been permitted to submit this information in the admissions process and the university would have had to give her application extra consideration.

Universities already look at the background or ‘context’ in which an applicant obtained their school qualifications during the admissions process. For example, if an applicant lives in a deprived area or has experience of being in the care system, the university might prioritise their application over others. This is to help widen access to university for these applicants, who traditionally have low university entry rates. Universities may offer these applicants a place on their chosen course with lower entry requirements than publicly advertised, shortlist them for interview, provide additional guidance and support to apply, or offer them a place on a pre-entry programme to prepare them for university.

What about disability?

Aside from deprivation and care experience, different universities set different factors they will look at within their contextual admissions policies. Other factors might include being a carer, being a refugee or asylum seeker, coming from a school that has low progression rates into university, or participation on a specific access programme. Being disabled or having experienced an interruption to school education due to serious illness is also considered, but currently only by a small handful of universities in Scotland, despite this being a key recommendation by The Equality and Human Rights Committee in their 2016 'Disabilities and Universities' enquiry.

We want to change that.

We want all universities in Scotland to recognise that being disabled might have impacted on school attainment and can present significant barriers to accessing higher education. This is about fair access for disabled people, it is not about lowering academic standards.

We want universities to make this policy clear on their websites, prospectuses and on UCAS course pages, so that disabled applicants know they can submit this extra information about their circumstances, in order to gain extra consideration.

We don't want disability to take precedence over other contextual indicators in the widening access agenda, we just want it to have equal footing. Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed in comparison to non-disabled people and are more likely to be living in poverty and learning at lower levels, for reasons not related to their academic potential. Gaining a degree can have a significant impact on improving a person's life chances. We want to ensure that every disabled person in Scotland who wants to go to university and has the academic potential to succeed, has the same opportunities to do so as everyone else.

Please sign our petition to show your support

If you agree that being disabled or having a long term health condition should be considered a contextual indicator in the university admissions process, then please sign the petition to show your support. Feel free to add any comments about why you’re signing to strengthen the case as to why this change is needed. We're aiming to get 100 signatures to show support for this petition, before we write to all the universities in Scotland to ask them to include disability in their contextual admissions policies.

Thank you!