Q&A: Managing migraine in higher education
By: Steph Weatherley and Mags Robinson, Information and Support Services Advisors
Starting higher education can be an exciting and stressful time for young people as they take on new studies, move away from home and build new relationships. Navigating university while also managing migraine can be difficult and that’s why we’ve answered some common questions we get asked about migraine in higher education.
Should my education provider recognise migraine as a disability?
This depends on the severity and frequency of your migraine attacks and the impact the condition has on you as an individual. Students (and those applying for places) in England, Scotland and Wales whose medical condition satisfies the definition of disability are protected from unlawful discrimination by the education provider under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). Different legislation applies to students in Northern Ireland (see below).
Under the Act, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. To meet the definition of disability, the condition must be likely to last for at least 12 months or indefinitely, and affect activities like reading, writing, talking, following instructions, using a computer, preparing written documents, keeping to a timetable, walking, travelling, and taking part in social activities.
Your GP, neurologist or headache nurse can advise on whether your condition satisfies the requirements of being a disability. Their assessment should ignore the effects of any medical treatment. They can also provide supporting information about the impact of your condition on your education for your education provider.
Your education provider is then legally required to support you by:
- ensuring that you are not treated less favourably or placed at a substantial disadvantage when compared with other students because of your disability
- making reasonable adjustments to the learning environment, practices and policies to allow you to participate in education without being put at a substantial disadvantage due to your disability
What reasonable adjustments can my education provider put in place to support me?
There are many common reasonable adjustments that education providers can make to support a student with migraine such as:
Equipment and grants: If a you are classed as disabled and require equipment for exams or assessments, the disabled students’ allowances scheme (DSAs) can support you with the cost of purchasing such equipment.
Assessments: Exams and coursework deadlines can trigger stress and migraine attacks. You may miss a deadline or may be unable to complete an exam due to a migraine attack. Your education provider can support you by making adjustments such as rest breaks, extra time, a separate room for exams, flexible deadlines or alternative assessment methods.
Lighting: Glare can be a major migraine trigger as the eyes try to adapt to visual disturbances. It’s important to understand and control glare where possible as this can minimise attacks. Glare can come from computer screens, windows, overhead lights etc. A lighting consultant may be able to provide support to a student and their institution if this is an issue.
Regular breaks: Breaks give time to stretch, relax muscles and manage trigger factors. They are particularly beneficial, for example, if you are working at a computer. It may be helpful to take regular breaks.
My education provider will not support me, what can I do?
It may be beneficial to discuss a problem informally in the first instance. You should consider contacting a student disability adviser or course tutor depending on the nature of the issue. Keep a record of any issues raised informally and the outcome. If the issue cannot be resolved informally, you can consider making a formal complaint. A student disability adviser can advise you of the complaint procedure to follow, the complaint should be put in writing. Your healthcare professional may be able to write a letter of support for you to your education provider. It may be useful to familiarise yourself with your education provider’s policies and procedures.
If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal complaint, you may be able to use any of the conciliation services applicable to you. If you are studying in a university in England or Wales, you can complain through the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). The OIA is a mediation and conciliation service that helps students to resolve disputes with an institution. Further information is available at oiahe.org.uk.
If you are studying in a further education college (but not a sixth form college), you can make a complaint to the Education and Skills Funding Agency. More information is available at gov.uk.
If you are studying at a university or higher education institution in Scotland, you should review their internal complaint procedure. If your complaint is not resolved, you can make a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. For more information visit spso.org.uk.
If you are studying in Northern Ireland you can contact the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland equalityni.org.
If you or a loved one has questions about migraine or is in need of support, you can contact Steph and Mags via our helpline on 0808 802 0066 or visit migrainetrust.org/contact-us. You can also chat to us online through our new live chat service at migrainetrust.org.