61 universities and 1,860 university students with a disability took part in the 5th 'University and Disability' Study

The study was carried out by the Universia Foundation, with the assistance of Banco Santander to carry out its activities, alongside the ONCE Foundation, CRUE Spanish Universities, the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI) and the Spanish Royal Board on Disability

(Madrid, 20 April 2021). -  The Royal Disability Board's Spanish Centre for Documentation on Disability was the venue for this morning's presentation of the 5th 'University and Disability' Study, addressing the current level of inclusion of people with disabilities in the Spanish university system.

The study was carried out by the Universia Foundation, with the assistance of Banco Santander for its activities, alongside the ONCE Foundation, CRUE Spanish Universities, the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI) and the Spanish Royal Board on Disability.

The technical advisor to the Royal Board on Disability, Mª Teresa Fernández Campillo, stressed the importance of solid, reliable data to demonstrate the evolution of the inclusion of people with disabilities in the university system. "The Universia Foundation's 5th University and Disability Survey", she pointed out, "is one more step in some most important work of analysis and compilation of data which is essential to enable public authorities to devise and implement public policies to guarantee equal opportunities for access to higher education for all".

The aim of this report, which has been published every two years for the fifth year, is to measure the rate of inclusion of people with disabilities in the 2019-2020 Spanish university system, and track the progress achieved in the ten academic years since the project began in 2011.

This study involved 1,860 university students with disabilities on university courses at present, or who have recently been on courses. The 61 universities involved (public and private) account for 76% of universities, and also for 87% of students with a disability in the Spanish university system.


The advent of the pandemic brought on by Covid-19 has affected universities, with changes affecting the lives of the entire university community, particularly those with disabilities.

Due to this situation, many students with disabilities have encountered new difficulties in continuing their university studies from home. 21% of these students claim they experience greater difficulties in following their classes during these coronavirus times. Almost one quarter of respondents also complained of the lack of technological resources and digital devices to study from home (24%). They have also manifested other needs arising from Covid-19, difficulties in taking exams and following classes (17%) and certain psychological problems (isolation, loneliness, anxiety), among others.

It should also be pointed out that 9 out of every 10 students with a disability certificate claim that they can study perfectly well from home because they have the IT resources and devices to do so.

With respect to contents, almost 80% of students with disabilities claim they have duly received the necessary information to carry out their academic activities. Most of them claim they have experienced no problems in continuing to communicate with their classmates or teachers. However, it is important to point out that 17% claim they have encountered many or quite a few difficulties to follow their classes.

At institutional level, more than half of respondents feel that Spanish universities were able to adapt very well or quite well to the new situation ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The director of the Universia Foundation, Sonia Viñas; said "this experience makes us see the future as an opportunity, with a vision of no confrontation of in situ teaching (in the social sphere) with respect to remote teaching (in the sphere of innovation), but rather with the idea of getting the best out of both of them, in order to produce an inclusive and accessible third scenario, on the principle which adapts to different capacities, needs and styles of teaching, in due observance of diversity, and particularly making students the main focus”.

In the same vein, the president of Crue's Student Affairs and rector of the university of Murcia, José Luján, claimed this study provides universities with some valuable data on the real situation of students with disabilities. He also pointed out the effort made by Spanish universities over the last year to adapt teaching to the pandemic, without forgetting students with disabilities: “The knowledge that 80% of students with disabilities claim they have duly received the necessary information to carry out their academic activities and that they have not experienced any problems to continue to communicate with their classmates or their teachers gives us much satisfaction, but it also immediately turns our thoughts to those who have encountered many or several difficulties in continuing with their classes”.


In relation to perception of the level of inclusion of students with disabilities at universities, 20.7% of the 1,860 students consulted said they had experienced discrimination at some point during their university studies.

The head of Global Projects and Communities at the Universia Foundation, Paloma de Andrés, paid particular attention to the main reasons: “these relate to some kind of problem with teachers, such as lack of respect, failure to address their needs, poor attitude etc. (38.2%), or accessibility problems, such as architectural barriers, non-adapted exams, lack of curricular adaptation etc. (37.9%)”, she said.

Turning to relations with classmates, in connection with isolation 1 out of 3 students with disabilities say they feel isolated with respect to other university students. In this respect, 16% of students with disabilities feel their classmates behave differently towards them in comparison to the rest of the student community. 35% also feel they have more difficulties than their classmates with no disabilities to engage with other students.

One high point, however, is cooperation among classmates to enable students with disabilities to follow classes, and a quarter of students with disabilities confirm this.

Participation in academic activities is considerably higher, since more than 40% claim they take part whenever they can, although more than 15% have the feeling they are isolated when taking part in this kind of academic activities. This participation is lower in the case of activities outside the academic sphere (leisure and free time, sport etc.), since half of students with disabilities never or almost never take part in this kind of activities, and only 20% do so regularly.

The president of the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI), Luis Cayo Pérez Bueno wished to draw particular attention to the following: “University inclusion - vigorous, ambitious, with a certain amount of scope - needs a shake-up, a reactivation, to make this aspect one of the most important issues in higher education. The new Universities Law (LOSU) announced by the government must be this instrument of leverage, and the social movement of the disabled, acting at the forefront at all times, has already informed the government and the university community of our proposals in this area. The university must make a collective effort to improve the productive tension in response to the desires of disabled people to be included”.


The trend in previous studies has been maintained, where the proportion of students with disabilities at university becomes less as studies progress. Of the 19,910 undergraduate students, first and second cycle with disabilities, as represented in the survey, the proportion of students remaining at university is decreasing, leaving 1.5% undergraduates in the first or second cycle; 1% of postgraduate and master's students and 0.8% PhD students.

The director of Programmes with Universities and Promotion of Young Talent at the ONCE Foundation, Isabel Martínez, said "this report gives us an extremely necessary diagnosis to help us build strategies to move forward in terms of the incorporation of people with disabilities in higher education, which is a key issue to help them secure technical and qualified jobs. We need university policies to not only foster access for people with disabilities, but also to help the talent of people with disabilities to make progress and improve”.

The trend is the same in terms of disabilities: the predominant disability among undergraduates in the first and second cycles is physical disability (30.4%), followed by people with intellectual disabilities or development disabilities (11.8%), people with sensory disabilities (10%), and finally people with psychosocial disabilities or disabilities related to mental health (3.9%).

By branches of knowledge, public universities have more students with disabilities on social sciences and law courses, while private universities have a greater percentage of students on STEM courses.


From the perspective of gender, the number of women enrolling in Spanish universities in 2019-2020 was greater than the number of men (55% women, against 45% men). However, the trend reverses when the disability variable is considered, and the number of women with disabilities with respect to the total number of students enrolled at universities is 1.2%, compared to 1.6% of men during the same year.

According to the data compiled in the survey of university students with disabilities, 11% of women with disabilities claimed that being a woman entailed greater difficulties in gaining access to their university studies, than those encountered by their male counterparts. This percentage rises to almost 16% when they are asked about the difficulties they have encountered throughout their entire university career because of their status as women.


The total number of students with some kind of disability studying at the 61 universities in Spain which provided this information was 19,910 students, or 1.5% of the entire student population enrolled at Spanish universities in 2019-2020.

Almost all universities (95.1%) taking part in the 5th 'University and Disability' Study have a service for students with disabilities.

With respect to relations between the services and students with disabilities, 6 out of 10 student respondents have contacted their university's service for students with disabilities at some point, chiefly to request adaptations to their curriculum, obtain information on their rights, and apply for scholarships or grants for their studies.

More than half (59.7%) of students with disabilities replying to the questionnaire have contacted their university's service for students with disabilities. The average score these students gave the service has improved since 2015 from 5.9 points to 8 out of 10 currently for their actions.

A total of 36 universities have provided data on the number of employees with disabilities, reporting 704 lecturers and researchers with disabilities working at universities, the vast majority of whom work in situ. Turning to staff working in administration and services, the total number of employees with some kind of disability was 845, all of whom work in situ.

R+D+i activities have also been carried out in relation to disabilities at more than 80% of universities, with disability as a research issue in their studies and projects. This shows a clear increase in the trend, compared to 64% in the 4th Study.


16% of students with disabilities who took part in this study claim they have encountered accessibility barriers in their university schools.

A large majority of universities claim they consider accessibility criteria when undertaking construction work, renting or purchasing new facilities. Only half of them, however, state they have implemented universal accessibility plans and design for all, and those which have assessed their levels of accessibility do not account for even 25% of the total.

Moreover, although lecturers have internal advisory procedures for disability issues from the service for people with disabilities, at the university level, people with disabilities as such have only been taken into account in just under one third of all study plans at the university, and just under another third in some of the study plans.

From the perspective of students with disabilities, around 40% consider physical barriers are still in place for people with disabilities. 20% also feel there is a lack of adaptation in theoretical-practical contents, and 15% believe adapted teaching materials and resources are lacking.

With respect to teaching staff, although 43% believe their lecturers are aware of and are up to speed with their needs, around 15% feel that teaching staff do not properly adapt their materials in class.

More information and download of the study: www.fundacionuniversia.net


Marta Gago, Communication and Culture, Universia Foundation
Tel. +34 695 56 67 26
E-Mail: marta.gago@universia.net

Jose M. Alías, Communication, ONCE Foundation
Tel. +34 659 102 780
E-mail: jalias@fundaciononce.es

Begoña San Martín, head of Communication, CRUE Spanish Universities
Tel. +34 680 92 58 62
E-mail: b.sanmartin@crue.org

Almudena Pérez Pedrayo, head of Press, CERMI
Tel. +34 600 51 60 64 
E-mail: prensa@cermi.es 

Marta Ochoa Hueso, head of Communication, CEDD - Royal Board on Disability
Tel. +34 627 77 41 50
E-mail: comunicacion@cedd.net