New independent commission aims to boost support for disabled students

A new independent group formed to challenge universities and colleges in England to improve support for disabled students met for the first time on 9th March, chaired by Professor Geoff Layer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton.

The Disabled Students Commission (DSC) will help universities and colleges to remove the barriers preventing disabled students from accessing and succeeding in higher education, and having the best possible experience during their studies.

The commission’s activities will include providing recommendations and research that aims to:

  • advise, inform and challenge the English higher education sector to improve models of support for disabled students – this includes higher education providers, sector agencies, regulators and government
  • identify and promote effective practice that helps those with disabilities have a positive and successful experience at university.

The DSC was announced in June 2019 and six commissioners were appointed to the panel, as publicised by the Office for Students (OfS):

Sean Cullen – Disability Officer, Brunel University
Susan Daniels – CEO, National Deaf Children’s Society
Professor Sarah Greer, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost, University of Worcester
Patrick Johnson – Head of Equality and Diversity, University of Manchester
Professor Deborah Johnston – Pro-Director (Learning and Teaching) and Professor of Development Economics at SOAS, University of London
Piers Wilkinson, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer
Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, has also been appointed as a commissioner. Dr Sam Parrett, CEO and Group Principal of London South East Colleges, has been appointed as FE advisor to the commission.

Advance HE has been commissioned to provide secretariat support and oversee the management of research and other activities.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said:

“Disabled students are right to expect access to all aspects of the university experience – including inclusive teaching and learning, appropriate living spaces and opportunities for extra-curricular activities. It is crucial that disabled students get the right support and opportunities to thrive during their time in higher education.

“We have appointed a group of commissioners that will bring passion, expertise and experience to their roles and we look forward to engaging with them and the strong and considered challenge they will bring.”