Employability and Disability in Higher Education

  • Employability and disability in higher education

    Val Chapman, Centre for Inclusive Learning Support, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK

    Judith Waterfield, Visiting Specialist, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK

    In the last decade of the 20th century HE institutions in the UK were focused on raising the participation and retention of disabled students. Government funding and disability legislation supported this changing culture.

    A recent Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Report (Stayce, 2011) showed that, across the general population, 50% of disabled people are unemployed compared with less than 9% of non-disabled. The latest Report on the First Destinations of 2009/2010 Disabled Graduates (AGCAS, 2012) paints a more positive picture revealing that generally similar proportions of disabled and non-disabled graduates succeed in gaining graduate level employment; but some disadvantage still exists with 11.4% of disabled undergraduates remaining unemployed compared with 8.8% of their non-disabled peers.

    There is a moral and financial imperative to reduce discrimination in respect of disabled student entry into employment where currently disabled people are under-represented in the general and professional workforce.

    This workshop features two research projects, a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) funded Project, ‘Employability and Disability’, led by the Centre for Inclusive Learning Support at the University of Worcester (UK), 2009/10., and a Centre of Excellence for Professional Placement (CEPPL) disability strand project at the University of Plymouth, 2007/10.

    The NTFS project offered a sector-wide initiative that aimed to reduce discrimination and enhance disabled graduates’ employability. It sought to achieve this by equipping disabled students with the skills to match employability competencies (Kubler et al, 2006), largely through enhancing academic and careers staff’s knowledge and understanding about the potential challenges that disabled students may face in developing such skills, and in offering possible solutions through adaptations to teaching.

    The main outcome of the project was a web-based resource, ‘usemyability’ (www.usemyability.org). This website provides bespoke information and a searchable database for three discrete user groups: academic and careers guidance university staff, employers and work based mentors, and disabled students/graduates. The development of this resource has been underpinned by research into the targeted users’ perceptions of employability and disability and consultation with other major stakeholders such as disability professionals. It has been extremely well received across the HE sector.

    The CEPPL project provides an audit and guidance tool which draws on research findings in conjunction with students, academic staff and placement providers before and after placement experience.
    The development of both resources is underpinned by research into the key stakeholders’ perceptions of employability, disability, sector engagement and responsibility. The authors will seek feedback on the usefulness and transferability of both projects and will engage in discussion about the findings and their relevance to delegates from other countries.