Higher Education and the 2020 Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005
The Australian Government has released the final report of the 2020 Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005 (“the Standards”). The Standards are designed to give students with disability the same opportunities and choices as students without disability. They currently extend from preschool to university and have been reviewed every five years since their introduction in 2005.
The 2020 Review draws on submissions from students with disability and their families, and the Australian education sector and community—including the NCSEHE’s submission to the Review and its associated discussion paper—to outline changes to the operation of the Standards in the coming years. The government has accepted feedback from participants that encouraged it to better integrate existing standards into processes and reporting in education, extending them where necessary, and providing new structures for the transparent communication and reporting around the Standards.
The Review findings inform four areas of reform through 13 recommendations. While most of the recommendations pertain to the school and pre-school sectors, Recommendation 6 provides the basis for reform in higher education:
That the Australian Government Minister for Education ask the Department of Education, Skills and Employment Equity in Higher Education Panel to examine ways to embed the Standards in higher education institution policies and practices across the student lifecycle (pre-access, access, participation, attainment, and transition out) at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level, as well as in workforce capability policies, as part of its development of the Student Equity in Higher Education Roadmap. (2020 Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005, “Recommendation 6”, p. viii)
This links the renewed implementation of the Standards to the Student Equity in Higher Education Roadmap, a document which will shape the national response on student equity issues in Australia over the next decade.
Among the broad four areas of reform, three have direct implications for higher education, and the fourth has indirect implications:
- Empowering and supporting students with disability and their families: This emerged as a critical issue in submissions to government. In higher education, the focus of the government’s response will be in ensuring students and their families have access to information about their rights, as well as establishing a clearer set of rules for institutions consulting with students with disability and their families.
- Strengthening the knowledge and capability of educators and providers: A recurring theme in submissions to the Review from the higher education sector was the prevalence of knowledge gaps among teaching staff and administrators in relation to the Standards. The Review has explicitly recommended that the Standards are “included in the policies and practices of higher education providers.” This is in response to evidence presented in Section 2.2 of the Review Report that highlights concerns around the lack of awareness of the Standards among university staff and the ongoing need for professional development and support.
- More accountability for the Standards throughout education: The Review released several key recommendations for strengthening the levels of accountability for meeting the Standards in secondary and vocational education. Similarly, its earlier recommendation on the policies and practices in higher education implies that similar initiatives will emerge in this sector. A starting point for action, is the implementation of Recommendation 6, as well as Recommendation 7 of the Review which seeks to ensure alignment of education policies and regulations to the Standards, including the Higher Education Standards Framework (p. viii). An important implication of these recommendations is that the Standards need to be fully integrated into the policies and processes of higher education providers.
- Building awareness and capability in the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector: While having no direct implications for higher education initially, the extension of the Standards to the ECEC sector will provide impetus for a greater focus on the educational life cycle of students with disability, including the impact of ECEC initiatives on school performance, and eventually, higher education participation.
In addition to the above areas of reform, the Review also recognises the nature of compounding disadvantage in relation to disability. It focuses attention on the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with disability and the importance of cultural awareness among educators (Section 2.1.4; pp. 18-19), as well as the adverse impact of COVID-19 on students with disability (Section 2.1.5; p. 19-21).
The 2020 Review will see improvements in the implementation of the Standards across the education sector, both necessitating and informing the response from Australian higher education.