2002 – Disability, Higher education, and Postgraduate study: A Fair Chance for All?

Attachment: CAPA Paper

The title of the Report of the 2001 Senate Inquiry into Higher Education says it all – Universities in Crisis. The shock-waves of the funding cuts imposed by successive Federal governments still reverberate through the sector, and there seems little light on the horizon. In this climate, it is students who don’t fit traditional stereotypes (young, fit, financially secure), who require extra human and financial resources, who suffer most. Students with disabilities, along with members of other equity groups (such as Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, students from low SES backgrounds, women, and NESB students), often find that the higher education sector can be a less than welcoming place. Large classes, a lack of resources, and spiralling staff-student ratios, impact particularly on members of these groups.

However, the situation is not completely bleak. Since the release of the Federal policy document A Fair Chance for All: Higher Education that’s within Everyone’s Reach in 1990, and the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1992, the sector has been making (in certain areas) a concerted effort to raise the participation rate of students with a disability. Disconcertingly, however, postgraduate students with a disability remain largely invisible – to both public and university policy makers.

The postgraduate experience of university study is different to that of undergraduates. Recognition by institutions and by DEST of the special needs of research students, and a growing awareness of the needs of postgraduate coursework students, is heartening, but is too often based on generalisations which exclude ‘non-traditional’ student groups.

This document seeks to provide an awareness of some of the general issues facing students with disabilities studying at university level, as well as to begin to uncover some of the particular issues facing postgraduates with a disability.

The paper is designed to assist postgraduate student associations (PSA’s) to better understand the needs of members with disabilities, as well as the legislative and policy environment for disability issues. Where possible, suggestions for lobbying at an institutional or government level have been provided.