Scotland’s universities, which receive over £1 billion in funding from the Scottish Government each year, must do more to meet their statutory obligations towards disabled people and British Sign Language (BSL) users according to a report from the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee.
The Committee warned that failing to embed equalities risks creating grounds for future compensation claims by disabled people and BSL users whose statutory rights were not met.
Evidence from current and former students highlights the need to embed a culture of ownership of equalities policy and the Committee recommends universities should move from voluntary to mandatory training on equalities to ensure cultural change amongst academic staff.
The Committee further identified a number of other widespread issues across the sector from the admissions process, right through to supporting students to complete their studies and participate in university life.
Equalities and Human Rights Committee Convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said:
“It is vital that disabled people with disabilities are not excluded from the opportunities that higher education can unlock, just because of a disability. Universities must strive to meet their statutory obligations.
“We heard lots of compelling evidence about improvements that could be made to the current admissions processes at universities that would benefit disabled people or BSL users.
“We recognise that some of the changes we are calling for will take time and resources to implement. However, relatively simple steps, like taking into account the extra obstacles many disabled people or BSL users will have overcome when universities consider applications, could be achieved more easily. We hope that our recommendations are taken on board by universities so that no one in Scotland who has a disability is unable to reach their full potential.”
The Committee also found that universities should provide more basic information in BSL format and adopt contextualised admissions for both disabled and BSL applicants. In terms of funding, the Committee sees the role of the Scottish Funding Council as critical to promoting equalities issues with universities through the outcome agreement process.
MSPs from Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee heard evidence on this topic as part of their 2017-18 draft budget scrutiny. Witnesses included disabilities groups, universities, and Scottish Ministers, amongst others, over a period of two months.
The full report of the Committee is available here.
Correspondence, Official Reports and written evidence relating to the inquiry is available here.