Tuesday 16 September 2014

Cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance Postponed

As David reported in April, Disabled Students' Allowance was recently targeted for some major cuts. There have been many of us very worried about this. But as the TES reports this week, the cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance have been postponed until academic year 2016/17.

But there has been no u-turn here, despite what the NUS is claiming - just a worry about timing. Ministers have said that they want to give universities more time to ensure that they can plug the gap left by Disabled Students' Allowance. (This probably has a lot to do with pressure from panicked university representatives, who've realised they can't afford that gap-plugging.) Government policy continues to be the same: move the responsibility for meeting disabled students' extra costs away from the government and onto the universities. As we've seen with the changes to the Access to Work fund, when you remove funding and expect employers/providers to plug the gap, it simply doesn't happen. The same thing will be true with DSA.

Will cuts to DSA keep disabled students out of university? Image: empty dining hall at Oxford University. Photo by David Illiff, Creative Commons.

Ultimately, how many universities are going to be willing to take on expensive students whose costs are no longer funded by the government? I forsee a lot of excuses along the lines of "We are not equipped to support you on your course." (I've already been threatened with that excuse myself in the past, though the threat didn't end up materialising - in part thanks to DSA.) Even more likely is an increase in general social inequality. How many prospective disabled students can afford to make their own courses accessible? Given how inaccessible they are now - not many.

Disabled people are excluded from educational opportunities, which contributes to the poverty, lack of qualifications and limited opportunities that we experience. A key reason is the inaccessibility of university courses. DSA goes some way towards helping to rebalance things, making university courses more accessible. These changes mean that many more disabled people will be unable to afford to do university courses. And this at a time when we're living under a regime that wants all disabled people to work. Ensuring that disabled people get equal access to degree courses would be one way to help with that. This is a short-sighted policy.

All that said, I remain encouraged by the support shown by NUS for disabled students on this issue. Let's hope we can keep their #degreesofdiscrimination campaign going, and change the government's mind on DSA for good.

As a disabled postgrad student, I've experienced some serious discrimination and access barriers. Without my DSA, I simply wouldn't have been able to continue with my course. In what ways have you been enabled to attend university by Disabled Students Allowance?

For more on the changes to DSA, and the consultation about it, follow the Disabled Students' Allowance Observatory blog.

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