Disabled Student Support

The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing. Over 332,300 students in the UK said that they had a disability– an increase of 47% since 2015. Much of the increase has been in those reporting a mental health condition. 

Every year, over 60,000 students with physical and mental health conditions and learning differences apply through UCAS to study at a university or college in the UK and access a range of support to help them succeed with their studies, day-to-day activities, travel, and lifestyle. 

How do we define a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 defines people covered by the disability sections of the Act as people with “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.  

A person’s environment greatly affects the experience and extent of disability. Inaccessible environments create barriers that often hinder the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in education on an equal basis with others. Progress in improving social participation in education can be made by addressing these barriers and facilitating people with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. 

Are students at a disadvantage?

Disabled students are still underrepresented in higher education and, on average, have worse outcomes from higher education than non-disabled students. Students with a disability are more likely to drop out of courses and those who finish their degree tend to have lower degree results.  

According to the House of Commons Library, a smaller proportion of UK disabled students were awarded a first or upper-second-class degree than those without a reported disability and evidence suggests that employment outcomes are also worse for disabled students than for non-disabled students.  

This puts disabled students at a disadvantage that needs to be addressed at a societal level as well as in educational organisations. More support structures need to be implemented to create inclusive learning environments and make learning accessible for all.  

The barriers to participation and success for disabled students come from institutions, systems, and processes, so providers have an important role to play in improving things. Part of the solution is more inclusive curricula, learning and teaching environments, and restructured support. 

What support is available?

Disabled students are provided with support from the Government through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) and a wide range of assistance is also available from higher education organisations. Despite the availability of support, many prospective students are unaware that help is available and only two in five (40%) had heard of DSAs before they started their course. 

Disabled Students’ Allowance is a grant to fund the extra support you may need to study your course. You’re likely to be eligible if you have a condition that has a long-term and substantial impact on your daily life. As well as physical or sensory disabilities, this could include long-term health or mental health conditions, autism, or specific learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD.  

When you have a place on a course, apply to be assessed for your DSA as soon as possible so financial help will be there for you. This will help cover costs related to your disability, including equipment and practical support. 

Further resources 

The following resources on supporting disabled students are also available: 


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