Two learners walking outside

Disabled learners still face barriers in tertiary education

Disabled learners still face barriers in tertiary education

Last updated 3 May 2024
Last updated 3 May 2024

New research findings emphasise that disabled learners have inconsistent experiences in their tertiary education journeys both across and within tertiary education providers. Learners highlighted a lack of disability awareness, with some providers showing a lack of capability to respond to their needs.

The ‘Let’s Get Accessible: Disabled students’ experiences navigating the tertiary education system’ research captures the voices of 245 disabled learners. Mostly from universities and Te Pūkenga, the learners participated in the research via a survey and focus groups.

The research findings will inform future policy decisions and help providers recognise and respond to the needs of disabled learners so they can start – and successfully complete – their tertiary education.

'Let’s Get Accessible’ research has been produced by the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and the National Disabled Students’ Association.

The report’s findings support work already underway in the sector to create inclusive, equitable learning environments for disabled learners to succeed.

Disability Action Plans are making a difference

To support and encourage providers to take a strong proactive approach to improving outcomes for disabled learners TEC introduced Disability Action Plans in 2022. A Disability Action Plan helps a provider identify good practices and offers a blueprint for the whole organisation to build capability and help staff become more confident about disability. The Disability Action Plan sits alongside other Investment Plan requirements for providers who receive over $5 million in TEC funding. Those requirements include Learner Success Plans – designed to improve outcomes for historically underserved learner groups.

We annually assess Disability Action Plans to monitor the progress of individual providers and the sector. Overall, good progress is being made across the sector, but pockets of inconsistency remain.

Our assessment of 2023 Disability Action Plans found that staff development and training is a key focus for many tertiary education providers. Some providers are starting to include disability confidence training as part of their staff induction process, while encouraging current faculty and staff to upskill.

Providers often used TEC-partnered resources such as the three e-learning modules we developed with Achieve. The modules are designed to build staff’s disability confidence to so they can effectively engage with disabled individuals, enhancing their experiences and educational results. As of 28 March 2024, 1,738 staff had completed all three of the modules.

Promoting, evaluating and monitoring of Action Plans is an area that needs to be improved and remains a focus for the TEC.

More information

To read the full ‘Let’s Get Accessible’ research report, available in accessible formats, or download the A3 infographic summary, visit Let’s Get Accessible: Disabled students’ experiences navigating the tertiary education system | Education Counts.

To read ‘Disability Action Plans 2023: a report back to the tertiary education sector’, visit Disability Action Plans.

To build your organisation’s capability to help disabled learners succeed, use the Kia Ōrite Toolkit | Achieve and Achieve eLearning.

To better understand and support your learners, visit Resources to help support your learners.