Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7951044809 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7538736244.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

Priorities for supporting disabled students in HE - student experience, academic attainment, preparation for the labour market, and the impact of COVID-19

Morning, Tuesday, 8th December 2020

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will examine policy priorities for improving support for disabled students.

The discussion at glance:

  • inclusion and accessibility  - in the context of socially-distanced campuses
  • educational attainment - priorities for improving it for disabled students
  • the labour market - preparing disabled graduates in a challenging economic environment
  • the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) - delivery, awareness and the impact of reform
  • the Disabled Students Commission - progress following its setting up, and the priorities it foresees as it begins its work advising and influencing policy and the HE sector

Policy developments at a glance:

  • COVID-19:
    • impact on study - closure of university campuses, as well as the increased use of online learning, leading to significant changes to the daily lives of disabled students
    • economic impact - with the pandemic expected to particularly hit young people, and following concerns over potentially an even greater competition for jobs for graduates
    • guidance - OfS’s The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on disabled students, with advice to students and giving examples of university best practice  and innovation during the crisis
  • the Disabled Students’ Commission - its initial work in advising government on key issues affecting disabled students, and support sharing of best practice across the sector
  • the Disabled Students Inquiry - currently underway by Policy Connect’s Higher Education Commission, looking at the experiences of disabled students in HE
  • accessibility policy - recent changes to building rules in England, making the instalment of Changing Places toilets compulsory in new public buildings, including at universities
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data showing 14% of home students have some kind of disability in 2018/19, a 38% increase since 2014/15
  • How to ensure that institutions align with Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, which outlines the common law duty of care that HEIs are required to consider under the Public Sector Equality Duty, as well as with Section 20 of the act – including eliminating physical features that may put disabled students at a disadvantage, ensuring information is in an accessible format and taking steps to ensure the provision of auxiliary aids

The discussion in detail:

The Disabled Students’ Commission

  • initial insights - and assessing progress of the recently launched Commission, funded by the OfS and managed by Advance HE - with an address by its chair, Professor Geoff Layer
  • priorities -  the Commission’s  approach to evidence gathering, assessing policy priorities for improving support, and ensuring that the voices of disabled students are heard
  • campuses re-opening -  examining the Commission’s recent Three months to make a difference report on the needs of disabled students for the coming academic year in the wake of COVID-19
  • how universities can adapt - including recommendations on:
    • communication - ensuring clear and timely information for disabled students on changing arrangements
    • accessibility - making sure that needs for disabled students are considered when making campuses COVID-19 secure
    • participation - facilitating continued inclusion in induction weeks under social distancing rules, and providing accessible in-person as well as online versions of social activities

The Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)

  • delivery - options for improvement and adjustment with the possibility that the pandemic may cause delays in students’ receiving their DSA
  • awareness - how it can be boosted, with findings of low awareness amongst by students who are eligible for the bursary
  • DSA reform - including transfer to HEIs of financial responsibility for some non-medical support, and the expectation of HEIs offsetting removals of DSA funding by providing reasonable adjustments
  • communication with students - addressing reported issues related to a perceived lack of clarity over eligibility, availability and applications
  • wellbeing - priorities for supporting the mental and general health with heightened concern over issues such as access to healthcare, and groceries and other essentials

Improving academic attainment for disabled students

  • study and the pandemic - the support needed by disabled students to thrive in higher education and close the disability gap, which the Office for Students (OfS) has indicated was 3% lower for disabled students lower than those without a disability
  • learning from the pandemic - how the experience of different forms of learning and assessment may inform the support HEIs offer to disabled students in the future
  • inclusivity and participation - with DfE statistics highlighting that the progression rate to higher education for those with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or Statement of SEN by the age of 19 was 8.5% of pupils compared with 48% of pupils with no SEN, it will therefore be an opportunity to consider:
    • how best practice and innovation during lockdown how this can be built on going forward
    • access - with some disabled students reporting improvement in access to educational resources, alternative ways of learning and assessment compared to pre-lockdown
    • blended learning - can be incorporated into long-term practice to create more inclusive learning environments
  • innovation - the integration and utilisation of the latest assistive technologies, as well as wider services and facilities such as sensory rooms, for students with hidden and physical disabilities
  • creating more disability-friendly spaces - opportunities and next steps for policy

Outcomes and preparation for the labour market and improving outcomes

  • with the OfS has noting that those in receipt of the DSA were less likely to be in highly skilled employment or further study following graduation, the seminar will be an opportunity to assess measures to close this gap
  • maintaining progress  - the pandemic’s possible impact on government’s ten-year aim of 1m more disabled people in work by 2027, and priorities for ensuring work towards this goal stays on track
  • careers guidance - best practice in providing disabled students with effective and timely advice that prepares and supports them for entering the post-COVID-19 labour market
  • engagement with employers - ways that universities can work with employers to support improved outcomes for disabled students:
    • continued access to internships
    • recruitment of disabled graduates
    • provision of reasonable adjustments
  • policy:
    • the impact of measures already put in place by government for mitigating against youth unemployment, such as the recently announced Plan for Jobs
    • priorities for extending targeted support for disabled young people

The agenda:

  • Supporting disabled students - the current state of play and initial insights from the Disabled Students Commission
  • The experiences of disabled students in higher education
  • Welcoming disabled students to university - inclusion and accessibility, improving awareness of support services and the DSA, and arrangements in a socially-distanced campus
  • Improving educational attainment for disabled students - inclusivity in blended learning, use of assistive technologies, and provision of alternative assessment
  • Preparing disabled graduates for the labour market - holistic approaches to career guidance, partnerships between universities and employers, and improving outcomes
  • Policy priorities for improving support for disabled students

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by the Department for Education; the Department for Communities NI; and the Department for the Economy NI.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament and officials from BEIS, DfE and other Government departments and agencies, university and college leaders; academics and other higher education professionals; representatives from students' unions; the health sector; disability groups; businesses and their advisors; technology providers; architects’ interest groups and the voluntary sector; along with commentators and reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Professor Kathryn Mitchell

Vice-Chancellor, University or Derby and Co-Chair, Higher Education Commission Disabled Students Inquiry

Megan Hector

Senior Researcher, Policy Connect

Professor Geoff Layer

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


Sean Cullen

Disability Officer, Brunel University

Rhys Brown

Disabled Students’ Officer, Birkbeck Students’ Union

Leanne Thompson

Disability and Inclusion Manager, Student and Education Services, Lancaster University

Dr Nasser Siabi

Chief Executive Officer, Microlink PC

Dr Annalu Waller

Professor of Computer Science, School of Science and Engineering, and Programme Director, MSc in Educational Assistive Technology, University of Dundee

Kate Lister

Lecturer in Inclusive Education, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University

Tabassum Ahmad

Founder, EmployAbility

Emma Pollard

Principal Research Fellow, Institute for Employment Studies

Keren Coney

Careers Advisor, Liverpool John Moores University and Co-Chair, Disability Task Group, Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services