This year’s federal budget has provided an additional $4.3 million p.a. to the Higher Education Disability Support Programme (DSP) to engage and support more students with disability to access, participate and succeed in higher education. However, this has been at the cost of the National Disability Coordination Officer programme, which may have unintended and unforeseen consequences.

The NDCO programme’s objective was to work strategically to drive change which assists people with disability to improve access, participation and graduate outcomes across both vocational and higher education. The impact of reallocating this funding directly to individual universities would equate to an extra $40 per student with disability, but leave the sector without any central coordination and support for the fastest growing equity cohort at a time when nine out of ten jobs being created require a post-secondary education.

There is still a lot of work to be done at the strategy level to assure equity for students with disability, including big ticket items that demand coordinated strategic action.

Things like,

* building a better understanding and preparedness for imputed disability for students who are flowing through the school system

* reforming graduate employment approaches to better support graduates with disability

* improving staff training about disability; adopting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles

* reforming policy and processes surrounding accessible ICT and infrastructure

* improving the interface with the NDIS; improving data and evaluation and much more.

Some of this work is underway at the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training which receives $150 000 a year from the DSP. While not a lot of money to drive change, we have (until now) received support to fund an ADCET manager, the national assistive technology Officer and an administrator. With this cobbled together arrangement, ADCET’s annual report shows impactful engagement via sector, lived experience-led resources, and training and guidance that address major issues in higher education.

But now we will need to shut down our eLearning programs (35,000 enrolees), let go of our specialist (NDCO) staff, and will not have the capacity to undertake any strategic work, all so that we can fit within the capacity of ~1.5 FTE as from October 31.

This would not be a good outcome for students with disability nor for the sector.

Imagine the complete opposite. What if ADCET was funded properly to build structural and practical capacity across the sector? This would enable tertiary education providers to assist students with disability to move seamlessly – with flexibility and agility – from and between different education sectors (schooling, VET and higher education) with the support they need to thrive and succeed.

ADCET urges universities to review the proposals made in our Universities Accord submission and engage in the pending consultation with the Department of Education about the use of the DSP funding allocation to properly resource the work needed for whole-of-sector uplift.

Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET) [email protected] @adcet_edu_au


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