In a statement before parliament’s Easter break, universities minster, David Willetts announced that the government intended to ‘modernise’ the Disabled Students Allowance, meaning that many disabled people will lose support for their studies.
From September 2015 the government will only pay support to students who have specific learning difficulties and their needs are ‘complex’ – although this has yet to be defined.
The government will no longer pay for computers for disabled people, and will not fund learning mentors or note-takers. Costs for specialist accommodation will only be met in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Paddy Turner, chair of the National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP), told the Guardian newspaper “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”.
“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.
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.”
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.”
You can read the full article on The Guardian’s website here.
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