The average waiting time for Specific Learning Difficulty appointments is 8 weeksLouis Ashworth

A new Cambridge SU report has described the University’s Disabilities Resource Centre (DRC) as “chronically understaffed, under resourced, and underfunded”, and warns that the service is reaching “breaking point.”

The report by Jess O’Brien, CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer 2019-20, highlights the communication delays and long waiting times experienced by a number of students.

It cites an email sent to Senior Tutors by John Harding, head of the DRC, disclosing an average caseload of 738 students per disability advisor, over three and a half times the ratio recommended by the Higher Education Funding Council for England of one advisor per 200 disabled students.

The email claims that nearly 17% of the total student population (3545 students) have disclosed a disability, and that the figure has been increasing by an average of 15% per year for the past ten years.

According to the report, this increase has not been matched by a corresponding increase in staff and funding, meaning the DRC is finding it increasingly difficult to support the large number of students requiring academic adjustments and meetings with disability support advisers.

“The DRC has repeatedly petitioned both the [c]olleges and the University for additional resources over the last few years, but I am afraid these requests (whilst securing some limited additional resource[s]) have not been successful in reducing the disability adviser to student ratio,” the email from Harding reads.

The report also cites information obtained from the DRC putting the response time for standard emails at between four and six weeks, and the average waiting time for Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) appointments at eight weeks.

Many students also reported waiting for many weeks to access their Student Support Document (SSD).

The report claims that as a result of long waiting periods, College and University disabled students officers have become “inundated with pleas for help that they are unable to help resolve.” 

It also describes the impact of stretched resources as “actively detrimental to employees’ health”, citing the “several members of staff working at the DRC [who] have been forced to take sick leave as a result of work related stress” this academic year.

“The DRC provide an incredible service, and despite my role as [Disabled Students’ Officer] I have received [zero] complaints during my time about the quality of the service they provide, but endless concerns about the time it takes to provide the wonderful support they are capable of to students,” O’Brien writes on page 20 of the report.

“Students know that the issue lies in funding” they add.

The report claims that the University is at risk of failing to meet its legal duty to disabled students under the 2010 Equality Act

The Act states that “an institution must not discriminate against a student— [...] in the way it provides education for the student; [or] in the way it affords the student access to a benefit, facility or service.”

The Act stipulates that disabled students are entitled to funding through both the Disabled Students’ Allowance and through their university and the funding it receives from higher education councils


Mountain View

Disabled students face struggles with inundated resource centre

The report discusses three possibilities for funding the DRC in the future: the “simplest option” of more central funding, as well as the possibility of a “college levy” tied to the proportional cost of disability services accessed by their students, and funding by alumni, although it states that “it is doubtful whether alumni would be interested in funding such a core service, that should form part of the University’s basic running costs and legal obligations.”

Reacting to the report, a University spokesperson told Varsity: “the DRC has added two new posts in the last 12 months, recruited for and filled these new posts.”

The spokesperson continued: “despite the impact on the capacity of the service from current government Covid-19 restrictions and associated staff absences, the DRC has delivered 35% more non-medical help (such as mentoring and study skills) to disabled students than in the same period in the previous year. The DRC continues to work hard to ensure students are able to access support.”