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New independent commission aims to boost support for disabled students

09 Mar 2020 | Advance HE A new independent group formed to challenge universities and colleges in England to improve support for disabled students will meet for the first time today.

The Disabled Students Commission (DSC) will help universities and colleges to remove the barriers preventing disabled students from accessing and succeeding in higher education and having the best possible experience during their studies.

The commission’s activities will include providing recommendations and research that aims to:

  • advise, inform and challenge the English higher education sector to improve models of support for disabled students – this includes higher education providers, sector agencies, regulators and government
  • identify and promote effective practice that helps those with disabilities have a positive and successful experience at university.

The DSC was announced in June 2019 with Professor Geoff Layer appointed as Chair. The Office for Students (OfS) has confirmed the six new commissioners appointed to the panel. They are:

  • Sean Cullen – Disability Officer, Brunel University
  • Susan Daniels – CEO, National Deaf Children’s Society
  • Professor Sarah Greer, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, University of Worcester
  • Patrick Johnson – Head of Equality and Diversity, University of Manchester
  • Professor Deborah Johnston – Pro-Director (Learning and Teaching) and Professor of Development Economics at SOAS, University of London
  • Piers Wilkinson, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, has also been appointed as a commissioner. Dr Sam Parrett, CEO and Group Principal of London South East Colleges, has been appointed as FE adviser to the commission.

Through a competitive process, Advance HE was awarded funding by the Office for Students to provide secretariat support and oversee the management of research and other activities for three years.

We are delighted to be the secretariat to the Disability Students’ Commission, and help guide research and enhance the work of the Commissioners.

“We have a long history of research into the barriers facing disabled students with a range of impairment types and producing guidance on how to remove barriers. However, we know that there is a continuing need to interrogate the issues and make higher education more inclusive and we look forward to working with the Commissioners to improve equity of outcome for all disabled students.”

Alison Johns, Chief Executive of Advance HE

Disabled students should be able to enjoy and benefit from everything that their university or college offers – including inclusive teaching and learning, appropriate living spaces and opportunities for extra-curricular activities. It is essential that disabled students get the right support and opportunities to thrive during their time in higher education.

“We are pleased to have appointed such a strong and effective group of commissioners who will bring passion, expertise and experience to the Commission and will challenge and support us to ensure the best possible outcomes for disabled students.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students

While I’m delighted to chair the Commission, I’m also disappointed that it is still needed. There is a huge body of evidence out there which tells us that inclusive environments, curricular and learning and teaching practices are critical to the delivery of successful outcomes and experiences for disabled students. Yet research recently published by the OfS has found that universities and colleges recognise they have some distance to travel before they can offer a truly inclusive higher education experience to their students.

“Over the next few months we will be setting our agenda and developing our approach to working with universities and colleges, students, funders, regulators and government. We want to listen to the whole educational and support community – and we will undoubtedly not only have much to say, but also much to learn.”

Professor Geoff Layer, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton, and Chair of the Disabled Students Commission

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