NEWI Is Disabled Students Leader
A Welsh university is among the top six across the UK for educating students with disabilities and students from low-income backgrounds, according to new figures.
The North East Wales Institute in Wrexham is ranked number one in Wales for numbers of students receiving disability allowance and taking students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
It is also fifth on the UK list for universities admitting the most students from low socio-economic groups, and 6th in the UK for taking students with disabilities, the report from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows.
The governments in Wales and at UK-level are both committed to encouraging more people from low-income groups to go into higher education, and university leaders met at a conference in Wales to discuss widening access for disabled students.
As reported in the Western Mail last month, disabled people are only half as likely to be educated to degree level.
People from low-income backgrounds are also less likely to apply to or be accepted at university.
Figures from Hesa released last week show that across the UK numbers of applications and acceptances to universities from people from lower-income homes increased slightly in 2005-06. But elite institutions, like Oxford and Cambridge, are bucking the trend and taking less people from low income backgrounds.
Helen James, director of higher education strategy and further education development at Newi said the university was trying to widen access.
“We work hard to break down the traditional barriers for students entering higher education,” she said.
“We provide excellent student support facilities, through to offering encouragement and motivation to all students. It’s all about treating students as individuals, and widening participation is the core of our strategy.
“These Hesa performance indicators show that Newi has not only met, but has exceeded its benchmarks in several categories, putting us as the top institution in Wales for our percentage of students from socio-economic classes four, five, six and seven and for our number of mature students.
“We are also top in Wales and sixth in the UK in the category for the percentage of students in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance.
“Making the campus accessible and providing the adequate facilities and support for disabled students has, and will continue to be, a top priority for us.
“Our commitment to providing new facilities and equipment to meet the needs of individual disabled students in specialist subject areas, shows this.
“Widening participation needs to be a strategic approach. Access is one thing, but participation is another. Higher education needs to further encourage the participation of students from non-traditional backgrounds.
“When students enter higher education they are often faced with traditional systems that are not always geared to their needs.
“At Newi we are passionate that this shouldn’t be the case. Everyone should get the opportunity they deserve.”
In recent weeks the Western Mail highlighted the cases of two disabled students at Newi, one with hearing loss and another who is blind, using a guide dog.
Mature student Alan Morton became disabled during his first year at Newi.
He was diagnosed with a brain tumour and lost 70% of the hearing in one ear. He also has dyslexia and Irlen syndrome which affects his sight and makes spaces between letters glare.
Mr Morton, 39, who is now in the third year of his BSc in multimedia studies, said he benefited from the special study area provided for people with disabilties at the institute.
“There is a properly lit, quiet workspace with non-flickering screens and lights which dim in Newi’s disability learning suite. This is very important for someone like me,” he said.
Vicky Manley, 21, who is blind and has a guide dog, lives in special accommodation. She is studying for a media and sound engineering degree and some of her equipment has been adapted.
Newi principal, Professor Michael Scott, told a recent conference that it was important for people with disabilities, their parents and carers, to be aware that universities such as his does provide support.
Miss Manley said she researched universities across the UK to find out which ones could offer support. She said she chose Newi because it was well geared up to help with extra equipment and assistance she needed, such as note takers in lectures. She did not want to be a “guinea pig” at a university not experienced in educating people with disabilities, she said.
Wales does educate slightly more students with disabilities than the UK as a whole. Across the UK, 3.6% of students on full-time, first-time degree courses receive the Disability Students’ Allowance, more than 1% less than the figure in Wales. According to most recent official figures covering 2004-05, 4.7% of students in Wales receive the allowance and around 400 use wheelchairs. At Newi 14% of students have disabilities.