The operation of a €10m fund for college students with disabilities is to be reformed to ensure more people benefit and with fewer delays.
The Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) helped nearly 10,500 students last year, almost treble the number assisted in 2008, according to a report for the Higher Education Authority (HEA). Although funding has increased slightly over the last three years to €10.4m, it remains less than the €10.6m provided in 2013 when less than 8,000 students benefited.
The HEA is to lead the implementation of 14 recommendations arising from the review, including an extension of the fund to part-time students. It administers the fund on behalf of the Department of Education, with third-level and further education colleges helping students to access funding and organising appropriate supports on campus.
Half of the students who benefit have specific learning difficulties (dyslexia or dyscalculia), and one-in-10 have multiple disabilities, with mental health or significant ongoing illnesses each accounting for the issues affecting over 8% of support students.
The main supports were around exams, but other common help included assisted technology, extra academic or learning support, or personal assistants.
“The FSD has had a positive impact on students’ decisions to progress to further/ higher education and without support they would have struggled to remain,” said the report by RSM UK Consultants.
While most students who took part in the study were happy with the level of support they received, nearly one in five felt they did not get enough assistance to meet their needs. There was also a lack of clarity about the process for seeking funding or eligibility criteria among participants before they benefited.