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Disabled students have their say on impact of Covid-19 and their experience of higher education

12 Aug 2021 | Advance HE Findings from the Disabled Students’ Commission survey explores a number of aspects of the student lifecycle, from transition to employment.

Eight out of 10 disabled students in higher education have reported that Covid-19 had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing, with nearly three quarters (72.7%) of students entering undergraduate or postgraduate study for the first time feeling their transition was negatively impacted by Covid-19, and that their envisaged experience of university did not materialise. 

Fewer than 20% of respondents to the survey for the Disabled Students’ Commission, designed to highlight the experiences of disabled students in higher education and the impact of Covid-19, said they found adapting to remote assessment ‘very difficult’ (18.3%) in comparison to over a third of respondents (36.3%) who had the same experience adapting to remote teaching and learning.

Out of those who experienced a delay to their Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) payment as a result of Covid-19, 75.6% reported they were not offered any interim support by their university.

Fewer than one in 10 (7.9%) of those considering employment upon graduation reported that they received disability-specific Careers Advice and support from their university, highlighting low levels of awareness that such a service exists.

Despite the negative impact, most students rated positively that their university had clearly communicated with them any actions taken as a result of Covid-19. In particular, students praised the role of their tutors and lecturers in supporting their support requirements and greater accommodations offered for assessments (such as open-book examinations and increased flexibility around extensions).  

The survey was conducted by Hannah Borkin, mixed-methods Researcher at Advance HE, on behalf of the Disabled Students’ Commission. Views were gathered from students currently studying at any level at an England-based higher education provider to gain a rounded and detailed understanding of the impact the pandemic has had on disabled students. The findings will help to improve understanding of the barriers faced by disabled students during the pandemic, as well as the lessons learnt that can help to influence and shape policies and support in the future.

Many of the students who responded to the survey hoped that a more positive and empathetic attitude towards disability, including an increased awareness of mental health and wellbeing, would continue beyond the end of Covid-19.  

It is really important that universities and colleges listen to the comments made by students and this feedback is very timely as we prepare for a new academic year. The sector has worked really hard over the last 18 months in difficult circumstances to support students and we need to make sure that we continue to seek to enhance the student experience.”

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

Download Exploring the impact of Covid-19 on Disabled Students' experience

Read How can the HE sector achieve authentic change for disabled students? - a blog by Hannah Borkin 

The Disabled Students’ Commission is an independent and strategic group set up to advise, inform and influence higher education providers and sector bodies in England to improve support for disabled students. Advance HE has responsibility for providing secretariat support, as well as overseeing the management, coordination and dissemination of research and other DSC outcomes.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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