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.