By luck or by design – meet your speakers

Ahead of our conference By luck or by design?, taking place on Wednesday 12th June, we asked our speakers and workshop leads on the day to give us an insight about themselves, but also their views on the current landscape for young disabled, neurodivergent or excluded people.

This is the perfect opportunity for  you to hear first-hand from people who work with and support young people progressing onto higher education.

Meet keynote speaker, Ellie Rowley, UCAS

Ellie joined UCAS in October 2021 to lead on the Fair Access Programme, supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds to access the post-secondary education, apprenticeship, or training option that is right for them. Her role includes working collaboratively with the widening participation and fair access sector to identify opportunities and develop services for UCAS to add value to the support already given to disadvantaged and underrepresented students.

Prior to joining UCAS, Ellie was a Partnerships Manager at DANCOP, a Uni Connect partnership based at the University of Derby. She has also worked for IntoUniversity, a leading charity, operating a place based model of supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain a university place or other chosen aspiration.

Ellie will be leading our conference as our keynote speaker and will centre discussions around lessons learnt from the latest UCAS cycle and the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.  The session will also share the developments from the UCAS Fair Access programme including new products, reforms in the application and personalised learner journeys.

Claire Spiers, Contact Associates

Claire has worked in the disability sector since 2006 predominantly in a university setting. She is dedicated to supporting students with disabilities and passionate about early engagement which encourages students who do not think they are eligible which would stop them from going on to apply to University. states:

“The majority of disabled students (87%) had heard of DSAs. However, only two in five (40%) had heard of DSAs before they started their course, rising to almost three in five (58%) of those who actually received DSAs. There is some confusion among students about what DSAs are for and whether or not they are eligible to apply for it, particularly among those with mental health conditions and long-term conditions”.

During Claire’s session, she will be demystifying the DSA, giving you insight into everything you need to know to guide your students on their DSA journey.

What advice would you give to a young disabled or neurodivergent person who wants to go to university?

Be prepared and engage with your chosen university early to ascertain how they can support you and what reasonable adjustments they can offer you. Get involved with everything, especially the transition events to ease you in gently and never be afraid to say you need help!

The reward felt by a person saying “thank you for believing in me” is the drive to push people to engage in the support to be ‘the best person they can be’.

Claire SpiersHEP Liaison Manager for London and East of England

Dr Anna Matthews, UMO

Anna is the Chair of UMHAN, CEO and founder of UMO an award-winning not for profit Specialist Mental Health, Neurodiversity & Wellbeing Service providing bespoke one-to-one support to students and staff.
Anna has worked in the sector for over 20 years and now helps frame policy in this area. She has previously worked in the NHS and academia, principally at Leeds University, helping many students along the way.

UMO’s White Paper was published after conducting extensive research into students’ experiences of Specialist Mentoring and its effectiveness, including literature on mental health in education, backed up by key stakeholders from King’s College London, AMOSHEE, Student Minds, and UMHAN.

This year, Anna launched an innovative project: the School/College to University Transition and the University to Workplace Transition Project. This involves mentoring throughout the transition period alongside a Mental Health and Wellbeing Passport – OneSpace. Together, they help support students during the most vulnerable times.

Anna’s session in our conference will explore the role and impact of specialist mental health mentoring on UK students in HEIs. 

When not working, Anna spends as much time as possible with her family, being married with two children. She also enjoys learning French, world cinema, keeping fit and the occasional glass of red wine.

What is the single most pressing issue for disabled and neurodivergent people who want to succeed in education right now? 

This is multifaceted and individual to the student – it could be the challenges of accessing the right support, feelings of loneliness and social connection, stigma they face, the issues of financing their degree – money worries, their work-life balance. International students, postgraduate students, carers and students from diverse ethnic backgrounds may face additional or different challenges.

Too many students still disengage and drop out from their studies. With the right support, every student can make a success of their HEI experience.

Dr Anna MatthewsCEO

Andy Owusu, LSBU

Andy is an author, consultant, PhD student (looking at cultural competencies for Mental Health Advisors in Higher Education,) and part time lecturer in psychology at London South Bank University. He co-authored The London South Bank University Guide: An essential pocketbook for Black Students (2023) and developed culturally competent resources for the NHS website NHS Good Thinking: Digital mental health and wellbeing support for Londoners.

He specialises in the mental health of Black and Minority Ethnic students, working with organisations such as Student Minds and Unite students. He managed the Office for Students’ Black Students Mental Health Project at London South Bank University (2020-2022) which pioneered the co-creation of culturally relevant resources within student services and facilitated the delivery of a more culturally competent mental health and wellbeing service for Black students.

What is it that drives you forward in your role as an advocate for young disabled and neurodivergent people?

My motivation come from the ultimate goal to help change the narrative of mental health, neurodivergence and disabilities within the Black community. Having engaged in this work you see first-hand how transformative the right support can be to a student and positive impact it can have on their overall student journey. We want more of this!

You cannot reduce the challenges and barriers experienced by disabled and neurodivergent students in education however there is an issue with the relevance of services and resources created to support these students.

Andy OwusuPHD Student & Consultant

By luck or by design?

An opportunity to join your peers as we work together to build confidence and expertise in you, the delegates, to further support disadvantaged students.