NPP Projects

Understanding how Regionality and Socioeconomic Status Intersect with Disability

Lead University: Charles Stuart University

Lead Researcher: Julia Coyle

Research Team: Julia Coyle, Kate Freire, Denise Wood, Clare Wilding, Davina Taylor, Rahul Ganguly, Jenene Burke, Liam Downing and Larissa Siliézar

Year Funded: 2016

Funding Received: $164,269


This project identified factors contributing to the decisions of people with disability from low SES regional and remote backgrounds to access and participate in higher education. This included the decision to delay university study until later in life. Surveys and interviews with school and university students and community members with disability informed recommendations for students and their families, and for higher education leaders and policymakers.

Project outline

  • The project had three objectives:
    • Build an evidence base through research on the decisions of people with disability from low SES regional and remote backgrounds to access and participate in higher education. This included the decision to delay university study until later in life.
    • Disseminate research findings on barriers, levers, and influences regarding access and participation in higher education for this cohort.
    • Provide recommendations on ways in which the higher education sector can improve current low levels of higher education access and participation for regional and remote people with disability.
  • The research was informed by two studies:
    • Study One involved a survey (with 540 respondents) of university students with disability from five regionally-based universities across three states to investigate: decisions to study at university; resilience and career optimism; self-advocacy; and student demographics.
    • Study Two explored experiences and perceptions of university study by people with disability and how these influenced aspiration, participation and success. The study comprised semi-structured interviews with 48 university students with disability, 15 community members with disability and nine school students with disability.

Key findings

  • A number of key findings were identified, including:
    • Disability experience was not found to differ with regionality. However, participants reported difficult transition experiences from high school to university settings. When this finding is coupled with lower participation rates among regional students with disability it indicates that barriers to entry and participation still remain.
    • Poverty and disability were found to impact cumulatively on students with disability. The prospect of gaining employment as a solution to financial stress is not a clear or easy option for students with disability.
    • Managing and negotiating access to education was a challenge for students with disability, experienced above the existing challenges students face with university study. This additional challenge was compounded by a predominantly reactive model to their learning needs adopted by the universities.
    • Meeting challenges associated with accessing education required high levels of agency that some students did not yet possess. Students with disability recognised the importance of developing their skills in this respect alongside other skills and expertise gained through university study. Some sought guides or facilitators to assist them in their planning and to develop a greater sense of urgency.
  • In addition to producing recommendations, the project also produced a separate publication on practical advice for stakeholders working with students with disability, The influence of disability, socioeconomic status and regionality on higher education access and participation.


  • The report produced two sets of recommendations, one for students and their families; and one for higher education leaders and policymakers.
    • Recommendations for students included:
      • Be confident in your right to participate in university study and experience the benefits and opportunities that this provides.
      • Actively seek out expert advice regarding participation in university study, including the range of services available to you and universities’ responsibilities with respect to working with students with disabilities.
      • Challenge schools and universities to effectively support your study needs including the development of study skills and personal development that enhances your sense of agency.
    • Advice to higher education leaders and policymakers, included a series of recommendations in six areas:
      • Discard the deficit model.
      • Work in partnership with students with disability.
      • Adopt universal design.
      • Facilitate students to develop agency.
      • Recognise the cumulative impact of poverty and disability.
      • Proactively address the gap in participation.

Report prepared by the NCSEHE.


Posted 1 October 2018