IT was supposed to be the time of his life and one more step towards his dream career.

That was until five years at the University of Glasgow turned into “sheer hell” for a disabled law student.

Gary Copland, who is visually impaired and autistic, has told of his misery after a string of failures saw the 25-year-old fall into depression and struggle to keep up with his studies.

His experience has been so severe he’s been forced to file numerous complaints to a public watchdog.

On nine occasions, this has ruled in his favour, finding – among other things – staff failed to “treat him with dignity and respect”, provide proper IT equipment, or adjust exam set-ups to suit his needs.

He’s also been left without crucial texts – receiving just one of 600 required in first year – and found his grades suffer as a result.

“It’s just been a really awful experience,” the Lanarkshire man said. “I’ve had IT problems, disrupted exams, thousands and thousands of emails, and quite a lot of them have been nasty. Even hostile.

“One thing has basically led onto another. It’s almost like a domino effect and during the five years it has just got worse and worse.

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“I haven’t had an enjoyable experience and have not been able to have the experience I wanted to.

“We try to resolve things and suggest how they can fix things, but they get very defensive and hostile. The more we push them, the more defensive they get.

“They just have to say they are sorry and admit they got it wrong. They just don’t do that.”

This is not the experience he expected. After completing his course at Motherwell College – now New Lanarkshire College – with straight As, he was given four offers and chose Glasgow for its “reputation” and the strength of its “disability services”.

His reality, he says, has been anything but positive. During the course of his studies, he has been forced to reply to around 20,000 emails, often spending eight hours a day going back and forth with university bosses.

On one occasion, he was told he could not attend a law fair to meet employers. The next year, he was allowed to go but when he later asked the university to digitise a number of leaflets so he could apply for potential jobs, they refused and didn’t return them until long after application deadlines had passed.

“It’s just been a really awful experience,” he added. “It’s been so difficult and just problem after problem for me. It has taken so much time out of my studying and been really overwhelming for me.

“It really has been horrible and has lowered my motivation. When I was at college, I was doing really well, but this has brought me down. “

It isn’t just Gary who has suffered. He has relied on the support of his uncle, Professor Simon Harding, throughout and it’s been such an ordeal for his family, he says, they often go out of their way to avoid passing the university.

Glasgow Times: Professor Simon HardingProfessor Simon Harding


“I just want them to take us seriously,” Gary added. “We don’t want to be embattled with them. We know they won’t always get it right, no one is perfect. But we want them to learn from it and to say sorry.

“It’s been so difficult for me, for my uncle, for my whole family. My mum is at the point where she just doesn’t want to hear about it. It’s been very stressful and horrible for everyone.”

Prof Harding added: “He has just described this as hell on earth.

“This has created an enormous stress on him and the whole family. I think the university has a culture of denial. Quite often the treatment of Gary and of me has been really quiet nasty.

“The number of times we have won with the ombudsman is pretty unheard of.

“Legally, they have to make adjustments for all disabled students but they have let so many down.”

Gary’s local MP, Dr Lisa Cameron, has long given him his backing in the case, writing to university bosses and even inviting him to speak to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability last year.

Glasgow Times: Dr Lisa Cameron MPDr Lisa Cameron MP

Dr Cameron said: “Gary Copland is a talented individual, proven by his previous qualifications at Motherwell College. The University of Glasgow have a duty to give Gary all the necessary tools required to succeed.

“The distress caused for both Gary and his family, who have fought so fiercely for him, is unacceptable. Gary’s case also serves as a stark reminder of the work that must be done to ensure disabled students have equal access to their education.”

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “We are committed to supporting all of our students in their studies.

“Our Disability Service ensures that we are able to make appropriate provision to assist disabled students with their learning.

“Students can draw on the expertise of our team of Disability Advisers and the assistance of dedicated support workers.

“We make bespoke adjustments to both teaching and assessments with the needs of our students in mind. In Gary’s case, extensive adjustments were put in place, and reviewed, throughout his studies.

“However, we recognise that in the course of his studies Gary faced a number of challenges which other, non-disabled students did not encounter. We were delighted that Gary successfully completed his degree in October 2020. We wish him well with his future studies and career. Our aspiration is to support all students to be effective learners.

“To this end, since Gary completed his degree programme, we have undertaken two reviews of our disability provision for students with disabilities – the first by external advisers and the second led by a Vice Principal.

“We are implementing the findings of both.”