Changes to DSA grants threaten disabled students access to higher education

9 December 2015

The University Minister Jo Johnson has announced plans to shake up the provision of support for disabled students. The Minister has set forth plans for universities to hold increasing responsibility for meeting disabled students’ support needs, shifting responsibility away from government funded support such as DSA grants (Disabled Students’ Allowance).

DSAs are currently provided to students with long-term health conditions, mental health conditions or specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and are paid to meet any disability-related costs of studying such as specialist equipment, non-medical helpers and extra travel. In 2012-13 they accounted for £146 million of grants to help with the support needs of 64,500 higher education students.

Government plans mean DSAs shall still provide funding for certain types of support. However, as of next September, responsibility for other services such as specialist accommodation, computer adjustments and accessible learning materials will be expected to be met by universities.

The Government has insisted overall provision will not change as a result of the reforms, with universities expected to pick up provision in order to meet their legal obligations under the 2010 Equality Act. Mr Johnson commented: “Higher education providers should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students, as other organisations and businesses do”.

However some groups, including the National Union of Students, fear that the changes could lead to an inconsistency in support available to disabled students according to institutions willingness or ability to fund different types of support. Furthermore, students could miss out on vital support if neither the universities nor the government accept responsibility for provision, with potential implications for disabled students access to an further education and learning.