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Changes To Disabled Students' Allowance

Wiseowl

Wiseowl

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The government are going to reduce the support provided by disabled students allowance from September 2015 for new applicants.

Disabled students could be 'shut out' by government cuts

It was a short written statement from the universities minister, David Willetts, to parliament just before the Easter break and, for those affected, it was a shock. The government intended to "modernise" the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) – grants given to disabled students in England to help meet extra study costs incurred because of their disabilities. From September 2015 it will only pay for support for students with specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, if their needs are "complex", although the definition of this, and who decides it, remains unclear. It will no longer pay for standard computers for disabled students, or for much of the higher specification IT it now subsidises. And it will no longer fund non-specialist help, likely to include note-takers and learning mentors. The costs of specialist accommodation will be met only in exceptional circumstances.

For students such as Toby Satchell, now doing his GCSEs and hoping to start university in 2016, the consequences could be life-changing. He has dyslexia, arthrogryposis – which affects joints and muscles – and a language disorder. In school he has one-to-one support to help with note-taking, writing and computer work. "At university I would be hoping for the same sort of help," he says. "Without it, I couldn't do it."

In a climate of government cuts, many of those working with disabled students had expected some reduction in funding for computer equipment. But the other changes were a shock, they say, because they had not been flagged up in their regular discussions with the government over the past few months.

"The implications are potentially very, very damaging but the greatest difficulty we have at the moment is that the announcement made by Mr Willetts is so unclear," says Paddy Turner, chair of the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP).

Turner says that while the changes are not due to come in for another 18 months, and current disabled students will be protected for 2015-16, staff are already seeing prospective students who are reconsidering their 2015 entry applications because they are worried that the changes will affect them.

His concern is that 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, and that this would undo years of work that has helped open up higher education to disabled students.

"This is going to have a disastrous effect on students with specific learning difficulties because it looks very clearly that he [Willetts] is trying to remove them from the DSA," he says. "It looks like a knee-jerk reaction to recent reports that specific learning difficulties and dyslexia aren't really disabilities at all." In March, Cambridge University Press published The Dyslexia Debate, co-authored by Julian Elliott, professor of education at Durham University, which suggested that the term dyslexia should be abandoned as it lacked scientific rigour and educational value.

So worried is the NADP about the government's decision that only students defined as disabled under the Equalities Act should be eligible for DSA that it is consulting lawyers. "How are you going to decide who is and isn't disabled under the act because that's usually only decided in court?" asks Turner. Until now, eligibility for DSA has been based simply on basic medical evidence that students have needs that will affect their studies.

The National Union of Students is also concerned and will hold a national lobby of MPs on 6 June in protest at the changes.

Hannah Paterson, the union's disabled students officer, says: "The fear for me is that like a lot of the government cuts already impacting on disabled people it shuts them out of society. It's going to stop people going to university."

She has dyslexia, and the DSA paid for a voice recorder, computer and mind-mapping software for her undergraduate studies. "I don't think I could have achieved the grades I did or even completed the course if I hadn't had the support from the DSA," she says.

Caroline Hands, 43, a third-year psychology student at Bangor University feels the same. She has dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild Asperger's and ADHD, as well as mobility problems because of an artificial hip. She says she was written off at school, but now has an interview for a PhD place. "The DSA hasn't just helped me to attain a degree and get an education," she says. "It has helped me to do well."

The DSA has paid for a computer able to support special software that allows her to dictate work, and paid for a replacement when it broke – her dyspraxia makes her more likely to drop things. "Without the support I have received I would have gone through life believing I was incapable of achieving anything," she says. "I would hate to think someone else at the start of that would not be able to get through it. After all that has been done to help disabled people to live productive lives, we are putting the bar up again."

Research carried out by the Equality Challenge Unit last year showed that the prospects of disabled graduates are significantly better than those of non-graduates. In 2012, 71% of disabled graduates had gained employment compared with 42% of disabled non-graduates.

While the number of students receiving DSA increased from 53,300 in 2011-12 to 54,900 in 2012-13, the amount paid out has actually gone down, from £125.1m in 2011-12 to £119.9m in 2102-13.

Turner suggests that this is because of the work that has already been done with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Student Loans Company to improve the system.

Sally Freeman, chair of the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education, says she was particularly shocked by the announcement because relations between the government and disability practitioners have been good, and have helped to achieve considerable advances for disabled students. "Our responsibility is to make sure the students we support don't now become disadvantaged," she says.

Under the existing DSA arrangements, a student can receive up to £5,161 a year for specialist equipment such as laptops and voice recognition software and £20,520 for non-medical helpers such as note-takers and library support, plus up to £1,724 for general costs incurred because of their disability, such as travel expenses. The responsibility for meeting many of these costs will now pass to universities, without any extra funding, with some institutions likely to be hit much more than others. Christopher Snowden, president of Universities UK, says: "Although this rebalancing will have an impact on all institutions attracting disabled students, conservatoires and other institutions specialising in arts-based provision have particularly high proportions of students claiming DSA. Any shift towards greater institutional funding could disproportionately affect those institutions."

Marion Lamb, head of student disability services at University College London, who concedes that her institution is likely to be among those least affected, says not all the changes are bad if they force universities to improve inclusivity in teaching and learning. "Many UCL students have their own computing equipment and so do not need DSA to purchase a basic laptop," she says. "But we do need to make sure that those students who are financially pressurised have access to the resources they need."

Tony Stevens, of Disability Rights UK, says the charity has already noticed that more disabled people are questioning the wisdom of going to university. "If you start messing around too much with things that have served universities and disabled people well, some of the widening participation gains that have been made could drop off," he says. "They aren't as embedded as you might imagine."

Toby, in the midst of school exams, is still unsure where his university ambitions will lead him but says the decisions made about the DSA will have an impact on the choices he makes about university which, in turn, are likely to affect the rest of his life. "It's about choosing my life," he says.

Taken from the Guardian 20/05/14
Disabled students could be 'shut out' by government cuts | Education | The Guardian


Written Ministerial Statement by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, on future changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances.

Today I am announcing measures to modernise the Disabled Students’ Allowances, which are available to Higher Education students from England.

Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) are non-repayable grants that assist with the additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education. DSAs currently provide a range of support. This includes the purchase of laptops and specialist equipment, provision of support workers and assistance with additional travel costs. The support is not means tested and is available for eligible full-time and part-time students, studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

In 2011 to 2012 DSAs provided over £125 million of additional support for over 53,000 full-time undergraduate higher education students, compared with £91.7 million awarded to 40,600 students in 2008 to 2009.

I announced earlier this year that maximum grants for full-time, part-time and postgraduate students with disabilities will be maintained at 2014 to 2015 levels in 2015 to 2016.

I am announcing a number of changes aimed at modernising the current system, subject to the Equality Impact Assessment. This will ensure that the limited public funding available for DSAs is targeted in the best way and to achieve value for money, whilst ensuring those most in need get the help they require.

DSAs have been available since 1974, with the 4 separate allowances being introduced in 1990. The current arrangements do not recognise technological advances, increases in use of technology or the introduction of the Equality Act 2010. It has been almost 25 years since the DSA scheme was reviewed, unlike other areas of student support.

The proposals outlined below look to rebalance responsibilities between government funding and institutional support. We will look to HEIs to play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. These are partly anticipatory duties and we expect HEIs to introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support. We will be consulting with specialists in the sector to ensure that Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) students understand the type of support they can expect to receive and who will provide it.

We recognise that students will continue to need support. However, we believe that HEIs are better placed to consider how to respond in many cases, including giving greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support. The need for some individual non-medical help (NMH) may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HEIs to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.

The key changes are set out below:

We will pay for higher specification or higher cost computers where a student needs one solely by virtue of their disability. We will no longer pay for standard specification computers or the warranties and insurance associated with them. We will no longer pay for higher specification and/or higher cost computers simply because of the way in which a course is delivered. We are changing our approach to the funding of a number of computer equipment, software and consumable items through DSAs that have become funded as ‘standard’ to most students.

Students with Specific Learning Difficulties will continue to receive support through DSAs where their support needs are considered to be more complex.

We will fund the most specialist Non-Medical Help. HEIs are expected to consider how they deliver information to students and whether strategies can be put in place to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their students.

The additional costs of specialist accommodation will no longer be met by DSAs, other than in exceptional circumstances.

We are also clarifying a number of policy changes. We will define disability in relation to the definition provided by the Equality Act 2010, for the purposes of receiving DSAs. We will also introduce a requirement for registration for those providers offering DSA study needs assessments and DSA assistive technology service providers.

The changes will ensure DSAs provide support where it is needed the most.

The changes in this statement will apply to all full-time, full-time distance learning, part-time and postgraduate students applying for DSA for the first time in respect of an academic year beginning on or after 1 September 2015. This provides sufficient time for us to work with institutions and stakeholders to ensure the changes are introduced effectively.

Existing DSA students and DSA students for 2014 to 2015 entry will remain on the current system of support for 2015 to 2016.

Taken from government website 20/05/14
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/higher-education-student-support-changes-to-disabled-students-allowances-dsa
 
Wiseowl

Wiseowl

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I just cannot express my anger and frustration.

Higher education providers have already had huge funding cuts and from this proposal it does not suggest any extra money to provide the services DSA currently does.

It is about punishing those people who need support and help.

On the one hand the state is claiming to want people back in to work and on the other preventing people accessing education. Or are we just meant to do minimum wage jobs for the rich or die in poverty. :curseyou:
 
BlueGlass

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i think that is bad, but i do think a lot of people get an excessive amount of help than that they need.
a friend of mine had a note writer in every lecture but he was perfectly capable of writing his own notes no problem and a new laptop even though he already had one that worked fine.
 
Wiseowl

Wiseowl

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I agree that sometimes the private companies and assessors that make money from DSA are quick to suggest services and products. So the government could have put the assessments back in the hands of the public sector.

The private companies that provide DSA support make lots of money out of it. How about the government tackling that and saving money, instead of penalising those who need DSA.

I was offered a laptop but I turned it down because I work best at home on a PC, with my anxiety I do not find I can study effectively in a library or communal space. I would not have felt it was moral to take something I did not need.

Without DSA I would probably have had to stop my college course and my future would be being on ESA for life (unless they took it away from me). I am training to work in an area that suits my MH needs and physical ill health needs, there are many jobs I cannot do.

It is another attack against people with long term health problems. Many people will never know about the changes until they come to need such assistance and find it is gone.
 
calypso

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Done that Wiseowl. I agree that some are ruining it for the many. Trouble is that so many people don't even know that they can get help. I hope that it makes some difference.
 
Wiseowl

Wiseowl

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Yes I have met quite a few people at college and on MHF who were not aware they could get help.
 
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ramboghettouk

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i wouldn't even consider a uni course now and have a loan over my head i couldn't pay and then have employers discriminate so there would be no chance of a job to pay it off and the final insult to be told by care providers and the dwp that as i've managed a uni course i wasn't a priority
 
Wiseowl

Wiseowl

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My part-time course counts as my work related activity under ESA WRAG.

I know that it will not be simple to get a job given my MH issues and possible discrimination. I just want to not be so dependant on the government/DWP, given the current climate.

I also want to use the skills I have and do something with it.

I feel that I want to try and earn my own money. If does not work out or my MH worsens at least I know I have tried to get my qualification and do what I want with my life. I find I need something to focus on or my MH gets worse.

DSA has been a lifeline and it helps to make the process of education a little easier for me to deal with. Such support is vital to allow people with different needs access to education, training and opportunities in life.
 
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