New data shows deaf students 50% less likely to go to UK’s top universities

26 July 2018

- Freedom of Information request reveals deaf students are half as likely to go to Russell Group universities as students who are not deaf.

- This is despite the same percentage of deaf young people who have taken A-levels going to university as their hearing peers.

- In the last ten years, the number of disabled students at university has increased by nearly 60%, but today’s research shows that big barriers still exist for deaf young people entering higher education.  

- The National Deaf Children’s Society is calling on Russell Group universities to tackle this admissions gap, work out why it exists, and develop programmes to widen access for deaf young people.

- Susan Daniels, the charity’s Chief Executive today warned: “Russell Group universities urgently need to step up to the plate to make sure the incredible potential of deaf young people isn’t squandered.”

Deaf young people are half as likely to go to a top Russell Group university as their hearing classmates, despite deafness not being a learning disability. 

As students finish school and wait for exam results next month, new data obtained by the National Deaf Children’s Society through a Freedom of Information request shows that only 9% of deaf young people leaving school get into one of the UK’s top universities. This is compared to 17% of applicants with no disability.   

This admissions gap exists despite large increases in the number of students with disabilities now going to university. Nearly the same proportion of deaf students taking A-levels go to university as hearing students. Research also shows that in the last 10 years the number of university students with disabilities has increased by nearly 60%. 

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive at the National Deaf Children’s Society demanded Russell Group universities “step up to the plate and make sure the incredible potential of deaf young people isn’t squandered.” 

Daniels added: “The 50,000 deaf children and young people in the UK should have the same aspirations and the same opportunities to thrive and succeed in life as any other children. While we celebrate the fact that deaf young people who complete their A-levels now go to university at a similar rate to hearing young people, clearly there is a still big problem when it comes to entering our top universities.

“Russell Group universities need to get a grip on this problem. They need to work out what’s working and what isn’t. They need to learn from some of the innovative programmes that have been developed to get children from disadvantaged backgrounds into university. But as important, they need to look to universities like Sheffield Hallam, that have been successful in closing the admissions gap for deaf students. Without action, deaf young people will continue to have their opportunities stifled and their life chances cut short.” 

Florence Grieve is 19, profoundly deaf, and studying Religion and Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Florence said: “Being less likely to go to a Russell Group university is not a reflection of deaf young people’s ability, but reflects the barriers we face. We need to have the right support, but also the confidence to aim high. 

“Seeing my parents and my sister go to university inspired me to follow in their footsteps. But despite these brilliant role models, I was always aware that they have their hearing, and I didn’t actually know any deaf people who had gone to university. If I had, it would have given me so much more confidence to apply to university, and made me feel like it was something I could do.” 

One of the most important factors for getting Florence to apply to a Russell Group university was going to a summer school at UCL for deaf A-Level students. Florence said: “Attending the Discover UCL summer school for deaf young people was one of the best experiences I had. It made me feel like I could go to university as a deaf young person. Meeting other deaf students, and learning how they haven’t let their deafness get in the way of doing exactly what they wanted was brilliant. One girl was studying medicine at UCL and it really inspired me because she was using all of the same support and technology that I would need like note-takers and Radio Aids. 

“I think opportunities like this should be offered to all deaf young people. That summer school made me more determined to do well in my A-Levels, and more determined to aim high and go to a top university.” 

The National Deaf Children’s Society is calling on Russell Group universities to tackle this admissions gap, work out why it exists, and to develop programmes to widen access for deaf young people. The charity has also published detailed guidance on how to effectively support deaf students in higher education.

Contact: nicholas.try@ndcs.org.uk