DSA reforms could decimate number of disabled university students


newslatestFour in five disabled students say they are more likely to drop out of university if the government presses ahead with plans to reform the system of disability-related higher education support, according to “shocking” new figures.

The poll of disabled students, carried out last month, found that if there were cuts to disabled student’s allowance (DSA), and universities did not have time to provide alternative support, four in five students would be more likely to quit their course.

This could mean 42,000 disabled students dropping out of their courses, out of the 53,000 full-time students currently claiming DSA.

More than a third of disabled students (37 per cent) say they would be much more likely to quit.

The poll of 200 disabled students was carried out by the disability support specialist Randstad Student and Worker Support.

More than a third of them say they would definitely not have attended university without DSA support.

Under the government’s current plans, according to Randstad, 92 per cent of disabled students – or 48,000 – are likely  to be affected by cuts to funding.

Maddie Kirkman, disabled students’ officer for the National Union of Students, said: “These figures are absolutely shocking and confirm what we have been saying all along.

“DSA is a vital support for many disabled students, helping them to access education, and it is likely that many students will fall through the cracks as a result of this withdrawal of support.

“The government can’t say that 50 per cent of school-leavers should go to university and then make this impossible to achieve.

“We are already seeing prospective students who are reconsidering their 2015 entry applications because they are worried that the changes will affect them.

“Hard-up universities will be unable to support disabled students if they have to pick up the tab for support that the DSA has covered until now.”

Victoria Short, managing director of Randstad Student and Worker Support, said: “We are concerned that these changes are being rushed through.

“Tens of thousands of students would suffer if these reforms go ahead in the timescales planned.

“Universities could, in time, directly supply the same support as the centrally-funded DSA.  But this needs to be funded.  Otherwise, other activity will presumably be cut back in turn.”

DSA is a non-means-tested grant that assists with the extra costs a disabled student faces during higher education study, but under the reforms will no longer cover the extra costs of “specialist” accommodation, other than in “exceptional circumstances”.

The government also intends to restrict those eligible to receive laptops and computers, while non-medical support like note-taking will no longer be covered by DSA, shifting greater responsibility onto institutions.

Last week, coalition MPs questioned the government’s plans.

The disabled Tory MP Paul Maynard, who himself benefitted from DSA as a student, said he had “concerns” about the details of the proposals because “great strides have been made in increasing disabled students’ participation in higher education”, while Dr Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP, said there was “a risk that the reforms could deter institutions from actively recruiting disabled students”.

About £125 million was spent on DSAs in 2011-12, but the government has so far refused to say by how much it plans to cut the budget.

9 July 2014