February 2010

part 1

and part 2

At the end of January the HEA launched a piece of research on the cost of participation in higher education. It’s already been blogged about by the USI Equality Campaign. The survey is based on research carried out from 2003 to 2006 throughout Europe and qualitative data gathered by focus groups involving 6 students of each of the groups (mature students, disabled students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds) from both a university and an IT. This in itself is problematic in my opinion, but that’s a post for another day. If you read the research though, what comes up time and time again is this line

“Finally, in terms of students with a disability the numbers were small (less than 2 per cent) and did not allow analysis of the additional costs faced by this group.”

I don’t think this is good enough even if it was clearly outlined at the beginning of the research:

“One such limitation includes the low number of student respondents with a disability in the available survey data, which therefore greatly impedes any meaningful analysis of average income and expenditure for this particular sub-group”

At the end of the day this was a piece of research which was trying to identify what costs particular groups of students incurred in attending higher education. This information would inform whether or not these students may have needed extra grants to prevent cost being a barrier to higher education, but because it was deemed that insufficient data was available students with disabilities’ experiences was not analysed and therefore their costs may not be taken into account.

My boss had a few words to say on the subject, and has already done so to the HEA. This is her statement.

Response to the Cost of Participation Survey in higher education.

This report is very disappointing as it wasted a valuable opportunity to describe the costs of study in higher education for disabled students.

While the survey aimed to review the literature available, it did not consider the NDA Endecon Cost of Living survey of people with disability which cites international research as estimating the average cost at €40/50 per week for many and extremely higher costs for someone with severe disabilities.  In this Endecon report the cost of Disability is defined as:

“the amount it cost a disabled person to achieve the same standard of living as a non-disabled person”.

The report also set out to describe the income and expenditure of different groups of students including students with a disability but it did not in fact describe these costs.  This omission is significant because if we cannot describe what the costs are then how can we take account of the additional costs due to disability.

The Endecon report describes the areas of higher costs for people with disabilities in relation to:

  • Transport; taxis
  • Accommodation
  • Medicines
  • Equipment
  • Clothing
  • Leisure
  • Insurance
  • Heating

Additional costs are incurred by people with disability depending on their disability, levels of impairment, and personal circumstances.  These costs impact on students with disabilities who in addition incur other additional costs related to their engagement with education.  While many of the additional costs of disability in education are the responsibility of the institution and are covered by the Fund for students with disabilities, others such as the cost of social inclusion, as pointed out by one of the students in the survey who said that he could not go out at night as he had no PA.

Students were seen as the best source of information yet the report was unable to locate sufficient students with disabilities, yet there are over 4,000 students with disabilities in the sector.   It is unacceptable to have carried out this survey without getting an adequate response from this group of students as it is essential to inform future policy.

Originally posted here by Linda Kelly, USI Equality Officer

Hi Everyone,

Just to let you know that Equality Standing Conference will take place on the 5th & 6th of March 2010 in Cork City. We are very grateful to UCC for agreeing to host the event.

Opening of submission of motions and nominations (for the 4 part time officer positions) is Monday 8th February.

Close of submission of motions and nominations (for the 4 part time officer positions) is Friday 19th February at 17:00.

The positions available are:

  • Disability Rights Officer;
  • Gender Equality Officer;
  • Mature Students Officer &
  • International Students Officer.

Please circulate this email to any student you think may be interested in taking up a position. Nominations must be submitted on union headed paper by the CO President and include evidence of student status of the candidate. Nominations must be submitted by post and email.

I would also encourage you to submit motions to conference on equality issues. Motions can only mandate the following officers: Equality, LGBT, Disability Rights, Gender Equality, Mature & International. Motions must be submitted on union headed paper signed by the CO President via fax & email.

If you have any questions, please email me or give me a buzz!

Kind regards,


Published in the Irish Times, February 2nd and accompanied by this article about an all inclusive school.

Fee paying schools need a shift in thinking.

In responding to the two articles in the Irish Times on December 8th 2009, the question we should be asking is why so many professionals involved in education behave in this unacceptable way.  The answer is that professional staff and parents see the child with the disability as the problem and do not understand the role that the school environment plays in preventing the child from learning.  Many children with disabilities are being inadvertently discriminated against in Irish schools because of attitudes and unchallenged thinking about disability.   What are these attitudes?  What do principals, staff and parents think about the ability of students with disability?  It is nearly a cliché, but they see the DISability  not the child.  In schools where parents are paying high fees for an excellent education,  disability is perceived as a threat to a concept of the gold star student.  This is a myth and needs to be challenged as it is unacceptable and leads to discrimination and exclusion of very able students.

There are many myths and stereotypes about disability, the danger is where policy and decision making is based on these beliefs. Children with disabilities can learn as much as other children when given the right tools and learning environment.  Technology can make a significant difference and resources such as the electronic textbooks and voice activated software would enable the child to keep up with the work of the class independently.  Yet the reality is that children who are blind do not get textbooks in real time, children with dyslexia do not learn how to use technology which would transform their learning experience and enable them to be independent learners.

Ignoring the talents of these children does not make economic sense as many children with dyslexia, (aprox. 8% of the population) have the very skills employers need to get us all out of the current economic mess. The economic reality of hi-tech jobs in a fast changing world means that employers need problem solvers, creative thinkers and technical experts.   Many children with disabilities and specific learning difficulties have these skills in spades.  They are great out of the box thinkers, they see the world differently , think laterally and make great leaps in understanding, seeing links and connectedness others do not see, and many highly motivated having to negotiate an unwelcoming world .

It is unacceptable that schools should get away with restrictive practices. But changing attitudes takes time and deliberate, directed effort, the old carrot and stick approach. The Department of Education and Science who is responsible for ensuring equality of education for all children should implement a quota system for schools that is linked to funding based on reflecting the mix in the community including children with disabilities. The Department of Education and Science also is responsible for ensuring there are sufficient supports such as technology in the classroom and that teachers are trained to use them.

The teachers unions also have a key role to play in leading this cultural change and could review their block on the introduction of Individual Needs Assessments as recommended by the  National  Council of Special Education and embedded in the Disability Act since 2005.  Needs assessment is a systematic way to identify the  support requirements of children with disabilities and is a critical step in ensuring that resources are used effectively and targeted to the dealing with the impact of the individual’s childs disability.

Ann Heelan, HDip in Education, MA Education

Executive Director