Fund for Students with Disabilities
The Fund for Students with Disabilities was established by the Department of Education and Skills in 1994, on the recommendation of AHEAD and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The Fund for Students with Disabilities is co-funded by the European Social Fund and has been managed by the HEA, on behalf of the DES, since 2004. With effect from the 2020/21 academic year, management of the Fund for Students with Disabilities for the further education sector has transferred to SOLAS.
The importance of the Fund for Students with Disabilities is illustrated by the growth in the numbers supported: in 2018/19, the fund supported over 13,000 students in higher education, as compared to just 300 in 1999. HEA data also indicates that 10.5% of students entering higher education in 2017/18 were students with disabilities, compared to less than 1% in 1994.
The purpose of the Fund for Students with Disabilities is to provide funding to higher education institutions to assist them in offering supports and services to eligible students with disabilities so that they can access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study.
The Fund for Students with Disabilities is one of the main funding sources supporting participation by students with disabilities in approved higher education courses in Ireland. It also supports students from Ireland to study on approved courses in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU countries.
Funding to higher education institutions is allocated based on the number of students with disabilities in the preceding year who require support as evidenced by a needs assessment document.
Funding can be used to provide supports and accommodations for assistive technology, equipment and software, non-medical helpers, academic or learning support, deaf supports and transport. Higher education institutions are responsible for managing the funding approved for eligible students.
In 2015, the HEA commissioned an independent review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities to consider:
- financial provision of the fund;
- the HEA model and guidelines;
- student experience of the fund; and
- educational institutions and the fund.
This review took place as part of the implementation of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.
In light of the evidence gathered as part of this review, 14 recommendations have been proposed to develop and introduce a new model for allocating funding by the HEA, reflecting on the scope for improvement identified as part of the review, ensuring buy-in from relevant stakeholders and building in a managed transition from current to new model.
The Fund for Students with Disabilities is managed by the Higher Education Authority on behalf of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.