Fund for Students with Disabilities
The Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) was established by the Department of Education and Skills (DES) in 1994, on the recommendation of the Association of Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The FSD is co-funded by the European Social Fund and has been managed by the HEA, on behalf of the DES, since 2004.
The importance of the FSD is illustrated by the growth in the numbers supported: in 2017/18, the FSD supported over 11,650 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 FSD is to ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary assistance and equipment to enable them to access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study.
The FSD is one of the main funding sources supporting participation by students with disabilities in approved further and 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.
FSD funding to further and 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. Further and higher education institutions are responsible for managing the funding approved for eligible students.
In 2015, the HEA commissioned an independent review of the FSD to consider:
- financial provision of the FSD;
- the HEA model and guidelines;
- student experience of the FSD; and
- educational institutions and the FSD.
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 FSD 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 co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Program for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) 2014 – 2020.