Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16: 475–503, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The representation and attainment of students with dyslexia in
UK higher education
JOHN T.E. RICHARDSON
and TAEKO N. WYDELL
The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK;
Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK
Abstract. Using a database of all students in higher education in the UK in 1995–1996,
students with dyslexia and those with no reported disability were compared in terms of demo-
graphic properties, programmes of study and academic attainment. Students with dyslexia
constituted 0.42% of all students resident in the UK. Their representation varied with age,
gender, ethnicity and entrance qualiﬁcations and with their level, mode and subject of study.
Students with dyslexia were more likely to withdraw during their ﬁrst year of study and
were less likely to complete their programmes of study, although with appropriate support
the completion rate of students with dyslexia can match that of students with no disabilities.
In addition, students with dyslexia who completed ﬁrst-degree programmes tended to gain
a poorer class of honours than students with no reported disability, but 40% obtained ﬁrst-
class or upper second-class honours. In short, dyslexia may have deleterious consequences for
progression, completion and achievement in higher education, but it is by no means incom-
patible with a high level of success, given appropriate commitment on the part of the students
and appropriate resources on the part of their institution.
Key words: Academic attainment, Completion rate, Developmental dyslexia, Higher educa-
Abbreviations: CFR – Code of Federal Regulations; GCE – General Certiﬁcate of Education;
HESA – Higher Education Statistics Agency; UCAS – Universities and Colleges Admissions
This paper is concerned with the impact of dyslexia on adults who are
studying in higher education. Strictly speaking, the term dyslexia covers
any impairment of reading, regardless of its aetiology or onset. However,
educationalists are usually concerned more precisely with dyslexia as a condi-
tion that is speciﬁc in manifestation and developmental in aetiology. This
condition was deﬁned by the World Federation of Neurology as “a disorder
manifested by difﬁculty in learning to read despite conventional instruction,
adequate intelligence, and socio-cultural opportunity” (Critchley, 1975: 361).
Nowadays, it is generally agreed that dyslexia is a complex neurological
condition, but there is a lack of agreement about the functional deﬁcits that
underlie this condition (Galaburda, 1993).