On 18th January 2016, the House of Lords considered the Government’s Higher Education and Research Bill in Committee. The Bishop of Portsmouth spoke to propose an amendment on behalf of the Bishop of Ely about giving special consideration for those with disabilities within the criteria for approving and reviewing student protection plans. The amendment was withdrawn after the debate, following encouragement from the Minister that the issue deserved greater inspection. Below is his speech and a section of the Minister’s reply.
The Lord the Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, my colleague and right reverend friend the Bishop of Ely is unable to be in his place, but has asked me to bring before your Lordships Amendment 134A. I and he welcome the Minister’s assurances thus far for disabled students. It is very welcome that he intends to publish guidance to ensure that higher education institutions are best able to fulfil their duties to disabled students.
For any student to begin the undertaking of a university course is a large commitment. Students with disabilities may face additional challenges to those encountered by their peers, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, so eloquently expressed last week—hence the importance of ensuring that adequate provision is made to allow them fully to engage with their course of study and all the other dimensions of a university education on equal terms with their fellow students who do not have a disability. In the event of a closure of their course, or even of the whole institution, plainly all students affected would face significant upheaval. For students with disabilities or other learning needs, the stakes are understandably even higher. For example, they may have specific needs around transport, specialist support, or adapted accommodation.
The numbers involved are significant. About 86,000 students in the UK—5% of all students—claim disabled students’ allowance, which, as noble Lords will know, covers those with long-term health conditions, mental health conditions and specific learning difficulties. In addition, there will be other students who are not eligible to claim DSA but who will have support needs which institutions work hard to meet. I mention only one such group: those with mental health issues, for whom we were pleased to hear of plans further to improve support arrangements in conjunction with, for instance, UUK.
That is why I ask the Minister to consider giving specific priority, when student protection plans are being drawn up and approved, to those students with these specific needs. Especially in the light of sympathy expressed so far, will Ministers and officials consider looking afresh at the explicit inclusion of those with specific needs in criteria for approving and reviewing student protection plans, as the amendment would require?
Baroness Goldie (Con, Minister): [extract] I wholeheartedly agree with the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely in his amendment, which were very helpfully expressed by his colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I thank him for being with us this evening. Student protection plans should be mindful of additional or particular protections that may be required for disabled students or those with special educational needs, which the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches referred to. Again, this could be made clear in the OfS guidance.