Evidence on whether ‘reasonable adjustments’ – such as extra time on exams, additional tutoring and special software – result in better outcomes for students with disabilities at university is severely lacking, according to a new report from TASO.
‘Reasonable adjustments’ are required by law (Equality Act 2010) but an absence of research means their impact on improving the experience of disabled students in higher education simply cannot be assessed, the report states.
The research – which reviewed over 400 articles and included expert consultations – makes a series of recommendations around reasonable adjustments and calls for improved data collection on the experience of disabled students; greater representation of disabilities in senior leadership positions in higher education; and more monitoring of university plans to improve equality gaps for disabled students.
Dr Eliza Kozman, Deputy Director, TASO (Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education) said:
“Despite best intentions to improve disability inclusion in universities and colleges across the country, we’re still very much in the dark about what works. This is particularly concerning given the rapid rise in young people reporting a disability and the persistent equality gaps in degree outcomes and employment rates for disabled students.
“I encourage all higher education providers to take heed of the recommendations outlined in today’s report. We need to work in partnership with disabled students to better understand their needs, further develop the evidence base on what works and ensure efforts across the sector are not made in vain.”
Recommendations from the report include:
- More and better evaluation of interventions to address disability inequalities, including the impact of reasonable adjustments, inclusive learning, assistive technologies and transitions support.
- Improvements to data collection on disability in higher education to ensure it is more consistent and comparable. Data also needs further disaggregation in terms of type of disability and how it interacts with other equality issues.
- More monitoring of commitments in Access and Participation Plans (APPs) to address disability inequalities and how they will be evaluated.
- Better scrutiny and evaluation of ‘whole institution’ approaches to tackling disability.
Based on the findings, TASO is working with higher education providers to develop more and better evidence on improving equality gaps for disabled students.
The evidence review assessed 408 articles according to the Office for Students’ (OfS) standards of evidence, along with 83 expert reports, a series of consultations with experts and an analysis of the OfS’ data dashboard and 68 APPs.
The review that informed the substantive content in this report was conducted by the University of Lincoln on behalf of TASO.
- Disability inclusion (DI) is the extent to which HE providers support disabled students’ equal access and equal opportunities to do well and achieve similar outcomes compared to their non-disabled peers.
- The Centre for Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) is a What Works Centre for the higher education sector, part of the Government’s What Works Movement. TASO focuses on eliminating equality gaps in higher education.
- TASO was set up in 2019 and is funded by the Office for Students.
- Before becoming a charity, TASO was managed by a consortium of King’s College London, Nottingham Trent University and the Behavioural Insights Team.
Download the report: What works to reduce equality gaps for disabled students in higher education