You are here:

House of Commons Library

Support for disabled students in higher education in England

Published Monday, October 21, 2019

The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing, but disabled students remain an underrepresented group and concerns have been expressed about the support provided for these students.

Jump to full report >>

The number of students in higher education with a known disability is increasing. In 2017/18 283,000 higher education students said that they had a disability of some kind, this was 15.0% of all home students. The number of students with a known disability has increased by 57,000 or 25% since 2014/15. Much of this increase has been in those reporting a mental health condition.



In 2017/18 the most common type of reported disability was ‘specific learning difficulties’ - this includes dyslexia, dyspraxia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAD(H)D, the next most common was mental health conditions. The number of students reporting they have a mental health condition has doubled since 2014/15

Support is provided for disabled students by higher education providers (HEPs) through reasonable adjustment and disability services and by the Government through Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs). 56,900 students from England received DSAs in 2016/17.

Disabled people are underrepresented in higher education and disabled students in higher education have somewhat worse outcomes from higher education than non-disabled students. Students with a disability are more likely to drop-out of courses and those that finish their degree tend to have lower degree results; in 2016/17 a lower proportion of UK disabled students were awarded a first or upper second-class degree than those without a reported disability. Employment outcomes are also worse for disabled students than for non-disabled students. These findings hold even after other factors such as prior attainment, gender, age and ethnicity are taken into account.

In 2016 the Government reformed DSAs to improve value for money and rebalance the distribution of responsibility for disabled students between higher education providers and the Government. The reforms included bringing in a £200 contribution to the cost of computer hardware. The changes were controversial, however an evaluation report on the reforms published three years after their implementation found that after the reforms overall DSA support was broadly meeting the needs of students.

Information on related subjects is set out in these library briefing papers:

The Office for Students recently published an Insight brief Beyond the bare minimum: Are universities and colleges doing enough for disabled students?

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8716

Authors: Paul Bolton; Susan Hubble

Topics: Higher education, Special educational needs, Students

Share this page

Stay up to date

  • Subscribe to RSS feed Subscribe to Email alerts Commons Briefing papers

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.