Monday 22 January 2018

Increase in students with a disability in third-level - but no change in funding

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Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The number of students with a disability in higher and further education has more than tripled in 10 years, but the funding to support them has remained the same.

It means the average allocation per student has dropped from €2,943 in 2007 to €1,025 in 2015.

That is partly explained by more affordable technology, but some students may lose out because of delays in confirming college funding allocations.

The first independent review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities - a joint Government-EU programme - presents a doubled-edge view of how well the scheme actually works, and makes 14 recommendations.

The fund is open to full-time students on Post Leaving Certificate (PLC), undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and also supports certain students studying in the EU.

Colleges apply to the fund to provide assistance, such as learning support, assistive technology and personal assistants.

About half of those receiving assistance have a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, while other categories include ADHD, blind/hearing impairments, mental health and physical disability.

Budget

Set beside the growth in the number of beneficiaries - from 3,800 a year in 2007/08 to almost 10,500 in 2014/15 - the annual budget has been static, at around €10m-€10.5m.

The actual spend may be even less than that - down to €8m in 2014/15, attributed to delays in confirming final allocations to colleges - which may result in supports being withheld temporarily and a decline in the cost of technologies.

Bureaucratic delays can hit PLC students particularly badly, because they may only spend a year on their course.

More recent figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show that in 2016/2017, the number of students supported by the fund had risen to 12,000. Further growth is expected.

The report noted that, each year, a large proportion of funding has been allocated to a small number of institutions.

In higher education, two universities and two institutes of technology account for one-third of the allocation, while in further education, four of the 16 education and training boards account for two-thirds.

Among the recommendations is an annual increase in the fund of at least €580,000 and its extension to part-time students, initially on a pilot basis.

HEA chief executive Dr Graham Love said they would start the implementation of the recommendations immediately.

Irish Independent

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