DISABLED lecturers and researchers are facing restricted opportunities for promotion in UK universities, an academic has warned.

Dr Kate Sang, associate professor in management at Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, said current barriers included a culture of long hours unsuitable for some disabled staff.

She also said institutions lacked understanding of how difficult it could be for disabled academics to travel to international conferences and said there was a shortage of suitable mentors and support staff.

Dr Sang has now received a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to record the experiences of disabled academics across the UK.

Her research will be used to produce a guide for Heriot-Watt’s Equality and Diversity Advisory Group, which Dr Sang hopes will then be rolled out across universities and funding organisations across the UK.

She said: "We’ve identified some of the career barriers women and ethnic minority academics face in the workplace, such as lack of access to networks and mentors, and a working hours culture that prohibits full participation in academic life, but we simply haven’t yet identified the career barriers for disabled academics.

“Universities have rigorous practices and policies for identifying and supporting disabled students, but this isn’t the case for academics. It’s a patchy framework that relies on the academics pushing human resources and occupational health staff for support.

“I am focused on finding out what universities and funding organisations can do to improve the experience of disabled academics, whether it’s building in British Sign Language interpreters or support workers to providing more grants or adjusting timescales and working hours.”

Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the UCU lecturers' union, welcomed the research and called for all institutions to take note of its findings.

She said: “It is over 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act, but there is still persistent and embedded discrimination against disabled people.

"We are seeing some positive progress in university workplaces, but our members are still saying there is an inequity in the treatment of disabled staff compared to students and learners, and working practices that can discriminate against disabled staff.

"We all need to do more to ensure employers recognise the benefits of recruiting disabled people. Disabled staff are a source of valued talent that should not be ignored."

Vonnie Sandlan, president of student body NUS Scotland, added: "If we want to create an education system which reflects wider society and is truly accessible for disabled students and academics, we need to overcome the unnecessary additional barriers that exist.

"Disabled students and staff should be free to choose where they study and work based on the same factors as everybody else, rather than where they can expect to have their needs best met.

"Support must be consistent across all institutions, between different faculties and courses, and available to everyone with a disability. It should not be a one size fits all service, but tailored to the needs of the individual."

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said the sector took equalities issues very seriously, including that of disability.

She added: "Dr Sang is researching the experiences of disabled academics in engineering, physical sciences, social sciences and humanities and we look forward to the publication of this research so it can be used to help us work with disabled staff and students to create inclusive universities."