Number at third level with disabilities triples over a decade

Support funding per student drops by almost two-thirds to €1,025 between 2007 and 2015

The number of students with disabilities in third level or further education has more than tripled in a decade, new research shows.

The dramatic increase is linked to more than €70 million which has been spent on improving access and supports for vulnerable students.

However, funding per individual students has dropped by about a third in that time as resources have not kept pace with the growth in student numbers.

The numbers of people with disabilities attending third level or higher education have grown from 3,800 in 2008 to more than 12,000 students this year.


The majority have specific learning disabilities (50 per cent), followed by multi-disabilities (10 per cent), mental health issues (9 per cent).

A specific fund for students with disabilities was set up in 1994 to support full-time students who faced major challenges in accessing higher or further education.

An independent review has found that while the number of students in receipt of support has grown significantly over the past decade, the overall level of funding has remained broadly the same.

On a per capita per annum basis, this means there has been a reduction of close to one third in funding per student per annum, down from more than €2,900 in 2007 to €1,025 in 2015.

It notes that all indications are the number of applications is set to keep rising. If funding levels are not increased, it says funding per student will continue to drop.

“Institutions will face further challenges in addressing growing demands for support,” it says.

The report also said administrative delays mean that new students can be halfway through their academic year before they receive supports, and some may drop out before reaching this point.

Recommendations on improvements

It makes a number of recommendations on where improvements could be made.

They include the need for a more robust model of allocation, the extension of the fund to part-time students and, over time, the transfer of the further education element of the fund to Solas.

Dr Graham Love, chief executive, of the HEA, welcomed the report's overall finding that the fund has played a vital role in supporting the evolution of services and supports for students with disabilities in Irish higher and further education.

He said the HEA will begin implementing the report’s recommendations immediately.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said ensuring our education system is inclusive and meets the needs of all our students was a key priority.

“The fund plays a vital role in ensuring students with disabilities can access and remain in further and higher education, by helping students overcome obstacles which might otherwise hinder them from completing their course,” he said.

The fund available to students with disabilities attending both further and higher education courses and to students attending approved courses in Northern Ireland, the UK and EU.

“We want to ensure that students with disabilities can access and fully participate in their chosen courses and that essential funding is available to ensure that they successfully complete their chosen course of study,” said Minister of State for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

The fund is managed by the HEA on behalf of the Department of Education and is co-funded by the Government and the European Social Fund.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent