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Department of Business, Innovation and Skills - Disabled Students in Higher Education

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a consultation into funding proposals for disabled students in higher education. Details of the consultation can be found on the Government website. The submission was in the form of an online form where not all questions were answered. The submission produced by the Geological Society and University Geoscience UK can be found below:

Submitted 24 September 2015

  • Question 1 - Do you think a minimum level of reasonable adjustments for all HE providers could help ensure a consistent approach to making reasonable adjustments?



If yes to question 1, what areas do you think should be covered? Please state what you think the minimum level for each area should be.

This response is submitted jointly by the Geological Society of London (GSL) and University Geoscience UK.

GSL is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with more than 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

University Geoscience UK is the subject association of Geoscience (geology, applied geology, Earth science, geophysics, geochemistry and some environmental science) departments/schools based within universities in the British Isles. It promotes discussion and exchange of information between departments and provides a point of contact between these and professional, government and quality control agencies.

We have not attempted to answer all of the questions in the response form but instead addressed some specific issues regarding the provision of funding for non-medical helpers and ‘reasonable adjustments’ as they relate to geology and related subjects.

On the issue of ‘reasonable adjustments’, this is an area that need to be looked at carefully in respect of field-based subjects. There is an expectation for HEIs to provide ‘reasonable adjustments’ for students with disabilities, but no specific definition of ‘reasonable adjustments’ is given either in a general context, or in relation to fieldwork – so this is potentially a ‘moving goalpost’. Clarity is therefore needed on what constitutes ‘reasonable adjustments’ in relation to fieldwork – especially since this forms a compulsory part of the curriculum. Data from HEFCE show a very significant increase over the past 5 years in students coming to university with mental health issues, learning difficulties or a social/communication impairment. Unlike a physical disability these issues are ‘hidden’ and may not become visible until an issue arises where the student requires support. This makes it extremely difficult to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, or to be anticipatory. Social factors also come into play here. The social aspects of fieldwork are arguably as important as the academic content, yet students with disabilities are more likely to feel socially excluded when it comes to fieldwork, especially if they perceive that they are not having the same ‘experience’. Again, this is very difficult to anticipate or plan for.
  • Question 13 – Do you have detailed edits or comments on the draft NMH guidance?

Geoscience, its sub-disciplines and a few other subjects such as geography have fieldwork at their heart throughout secondary and higher education. Field experience is a fundamental part of undergraduate geoscience degrees and an essential requirement for entry into the geoscience profession i.e. for employment in industry. The geoscience community is increasingly working to tackle the issue of barriers to those with disabilities participating in fieldwork. As part of their commitment to addressing these challenges, the Geological Society and University Geoscience UK recently held a conference on ‘Confronting Barriers to inclusion – Opening the gate to accessible fieldwork’. Talks from the day and information about the programme are available on our website (

With regard to the provision of non-medical helpers (NMH), it is unclear where support relating to fieldwork sits in terms of non-medical support assistants, since fieldwork is not explicitly referred to either in the consultation document, or the Student Loan Company Non-Medical Helper reference manual. The closest ‘fit’ appears to be a Band One Workshop/Laboratory Assistant (p.19), whose role is “supporting a student in gaining access to the practical aspects of their course”. HE providers are expected to provide this support. DSA funding will still be available for more specialist enabling support and students might qualify for this support if their issues are complex and/or unseen. It therefore needs to be made explicit which type(s) of non-medical support assistance are considered relevant to fieldwork. Fieldwork is very different from other types of ‘practical work’ such as workshops or lab work. Fieldwork is ‘uncontrolled’ in the sense that it takes place outside of the university environment, requires travel to and working in unfamiliar locations, and may be residential. On this basis the type of support needed in a lab or workshop may be very different from the type of support needed in a field environment.