Disabled people and tertiary education: An analysis of the 2013 Disability Survey

Publication Details

This report investigates the participation and success of disabled people in tertiary education, using data from the 2013 Disability Survey. The purpose of the report is to inform policy to support the needs of disabled people in tertiary education.

Author(s): David Earle, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: November 2019

Summary

The 2013 Disability Survey estimated that 21% of all 16 to 64-year-olds had a disability. The proportion was higher among older people, due to health conditions or injuries occurring later in life. The most common main impairments were mobility, hearing and psychological/psychiatric. Around half of disabled people had more than one type of impairment. The responses in the Survey can be used to identify a group of disabled people with higher support needs, who made up 23% of all disabled people aged 16 to 64. This proportion was consistent across age groups.

Key findings

Disabled adults generally had lower level school qualifications than non-disabled people. This continued to be the case for younger people, as it had been for older people. They also are more likely to participate at lower levels of tertiary education and have lower levels of post-school qualifications. Most of the difference in tertiary participation and qualifications can be explained by the lower levels of achievement at school.

Disabled people with the same level of education were less likely to be in full-time work, and more likely not to be in the labour force than similarly qualified non-disabled people. However, disabled people were no more likely to be in part-time work than non-disabled people. This suggests that many disabled people are faced with a choice of either taking full-time work or not being in work at all, with there being generally limited options for part-time work.

Disabled students were more likely to be enrolled in foundation tertiary education (Level 1 to 3 certificates), about as likely to be enrolled in vocational education, including industry training (Levels 4 to 7 non-degree) and less likely to be enrolled in degree level and above as compared to non-disabled students.

Educational participation and achievement varied by gender, ethnic group and socio-economic status. Having a disability had a multiplying effect over the educational differences between demographic groups. For example, in each demographic group, disabled students were about 1.3 times as likely to have no post-school qualification and half as likely to have a bachelors degree or higher.

Among younger students (aged 16 to 39-years old), disabled students had lower course pass rates, on average, than non-disabled students. There was no difference in course pass rates for students aged 40 to 64. Nor was there any difference by the level of support need of disabled students. However, 38% of disabled students with higher support needs reported they had a greater need for learning support, not all of which is met.

Around a third of disabled people who were not in study, and said they would like to study in the future, felt they would be limited by the types of courses available or by the amount of study they could do. This proportion was higher for disabled people with higher support needs.

Many of the differences in participation and achievement between people with different types of impairment were not statistically significant. This was partly due to small sample sizes in the Survey. More consistent differences showed up by the level of support need.

Education and employment

School attainment

Disabled people (aged 16 to 64) were twice as likely to have no school qualifications and half as likely to have a Level 3 school qualification as non-disabled people. Disabled people with higher support needs were much more likely to have no school qualification than disabled people with lower support needs. Disabled people with lower support needs were more likely to have no school qualification than non-disabled people. This pattern was consistent across both younger and older people.

The school qualifications of disabled people differed across gender, ethnic group and socio-economic status. Disability had a multiplying effect over the educational differences between demographic groups. Within each demographic group, disabled people were about twice as likely to have no school qualifications as non-disabled people, and half as likely to have a Level 3 qualification.

Post-school attainment

Disabled people were more likely to have no post-school qualification and less likely to have a bachelors degree or higher than non-disabled people. Disabled people with higher support needs were more likely to have no post school qualification than disabled people with lower support needs. Disabled people with lower support needs were more likely to have no post-school qualifications than non-disabled people.

The lower post-school attainment of disabled people is, to a large degree, explained by their lower school qualifications. However, for a given level of school qualification, younger disabled people (aged 16 to 34) were less likely to have a post-school qualification than non-disabled people in the same age group.

The post-school qualifications of disabled people differed across gender, ethnic group and socio-economic status. As with school qualifications, disability had a multiplying effect over the educational differences between demographic groups. Within each demographic group, disabled people were about 1.3 times more likely to have no post-school qualifications as non-disabled people, and half as likely to have a bachelors degree or higher.

Employment

Disabled people were less likely to be in full-time employment than non-disabled people and more likely to be not in the labour force. Disabled people were no more likely to be in part-time work as non-disabled people. Disabled people with higher support needs were much less likely to be in full-time work, and more likely to be out of the labour force, than disabled people with lower support needs. For 16 to 39-year-olds, disabled people with lower support needs had similar employment rates as non-disabled people. In the older age group (40 to 64-years old), disabled people with lower support needs had lower employment rates than non-disabled people.

Part of the reason for the lower full-time employment rates of disabled people was their lower school and post-school achievement. However, at each qualification level, disabled people were less likely to be in full-time employment than non-disabled people, and more likely to be not in the labour force.

Participation in tertiary education

Younger disabled people (aged 16 to 39) had the same rate of participation in tertiary education across all levels as non-disabled people in the same age group. However, they were more likely to enrol at Level 1 to 3 and less likely to enrol at higher levels.

Older disabled people (aged 40 to 64) had a lower rate of participation in tertiary education than non-disabled people in the same age group. They had similar rates of participation at Level 1 to 3 and lower rates of participation at higher levels.

The low rate of participation in degree and above programmes was largely due to the lower rate of school achievement for disabled people.

Younger disabled people with higher levels of support needs were more likely to participate in tertiary education at Levels 1 to 3 and less likely to participate at degree level and above than young people with lower support needs. In this age group, those with higher support needs were more likely to be enrolled in a polytechnic and less likely to be in industry training than those with lower support needs.

Tertiary participation of disabled people differed across gender, ethnic group and socio-economic status. Disability had a multiplying effect over the participation differences between demographic groups.

Success in tertiary education

Disabled students aged 16 to 39 had lower average course completion rates (at 55%) than non-disabled students (at 62%). This difference was statistically significant. For older students, aged 40 to 65, the rates were 64% and 67% respectively. This difference was not statistically significant.

There was no statistically significant difference in completion rates between disabled students with higher or lower needs, nor across subsectors.

Experience of tertiary education

For those who were enrolled in tertiary education, physical access to institutions appears to have been relatively well addressed. The majority of students with vision, mobility or agility impairments attended institutions that provided features to help improve access. Only a small proportion of these students needed to use those features. Very few reported they had an unmet need for access. However, physical access could still be a barrier to students enrolling in the first place.

There appears to be unmet need for learning support for disabled students. Around 14% of disabled students reported they would like more support with their study. Thirty-eight percent of disabled students with higher needs reported they would like more support. Younger students were more likely to want more support than other students.

Nearly half of disabled people who were not studying said they would like to study in the future. This proportion was higher for younger people (69%) than older people. It was the same for students with higher or lower support needs.

Of those who were not studying and wanted to study, 30% said they would be limited by the types of courses available and 30% said they would be limited by the amount of study they could do. These proportions were similar across age groups, but higher for people with higher support needs.

Eleven percent of disabled people in employment had had to retrain due to a condition or health problem. The proportion was higher for those with higher support needs, but similar across age groups.

Effect of degree or type of disability

Across all measures of education, disabled people with higher support needs were less likely to have attained school or post-school qualifications, or to participate in tertiary education. In most cases, those with lower support needs were still less likely to participate or achieve than those with no disabilities.

There was variation in education participation and achievement by type of impairment. Due to sample size, many of these differences were not statistically significant. In the 16 to 39 year old age group, disabled people whose main impairment was speaking, intellectual or not specified had lower participation and achievement. Those whose main impairment was psychiatric/psychological or remembering had higher participation and achievement than other disabled people. In the 40 to 64-year-old age group the differences were less consistent by main impairment type. Those whose main impairment was seeing had higher participation and achievement than other disabled people.

Limitations and areas for further investigation

This report provides an initial overview of disabled people and tertiary education. It is based solely on the quantitative data from the Survey, linked to education records in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI). The amount of detail that can be explored, particularly for sub-groups of disabled people, is limited by the sample size of the Survey. It doesn’t explore the lived experience of disabled people.

Further research and analysis that could be done includes:

  • the experiences of disabled people in tertiary education, through qualitative research
  • differences in the amount of tertiary education that disabled and non-disable people participate in
  • retention of disabled people in tertiary education
  • success of disabled learners in industry training
  • completion of qualifications
  • differences in income for disabled and non-disabled people.

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