What we think

All blind and partially sighted university students must have access to the support they need to achieve their full academic potential and the opportunity to obtain the same skills and experiences as their peers.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a grant that helps university students meet the extra costs they may face as a result of their disability, long term illness or mental health problem. The purpose is to enable disabled students to overcome barriers to their learning that cannot be addressed through inclusive practice and reasonable adjustments. Research evidence shows that without the support provided by DSA, many blind and partially sight students wouldn’t be able to access university.

It is essential that disabled people have equal access to higher education as it can greatly improve future life prospects. Roughly 42.8 per cent of young people with ‘a seeing difficulty’ aged 16-25 are not in employment, education or training (NEET), compared to 21.7 per cent of 16-25-year olds [1]. This is echoed in the general population where 27 per cent of blind and partially sighted people of working age are in employment, a fall from 33 per cent in 2006 [2].

What we are calling for

We launched Our Right to Study in February 2019, and we have consistently called for the Department for Education (DfE) to:

  • Engage in a full review of the assessment process, non-medical help and technology support delivered by DSA. This must include engagement with blind and partially sighted students, providers, assessors, specialists and the third sector.
  • Ensure that the DSA assessment process is robust, and that recommendations made by assessors are accepted by the Student Loan Company (SLC), unless there is clear evidence not to do so.
  • Restructure Non-Medical Help (NMH) so that it meets the needs of blind and partially sighted students. This must include taking steps to ensure that those with the relevant experience, knowledge and skills can support students.
  • Ensure that vision impaired students receive the equipment needed to support their studies in a timely manner.

What has the government said about DSA

There have been a number of announcements from DfE and the SLC, including the following:

  1. The SLC will procure central contracts for the supply of DSA equipment and assessment providers. Contracts for the supply of equipment should be in place from autumn 2019 and for assessment services from autumn 2020 [3].
  2. DfE will seek the higher education and disability sectors’ views on adapting the DSA system so that funding for students’ non-medical help (NMH) is directed to higher education providers. The consultation will run over summer/early autumn 2019 with any changes effective from academic year 2021/22. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also reviewing funding arrangements for disabled students and operational enhancements [3].
  3. DfE will increase the cap on the single postgraduate DSA for academic year 2019/20 from £10,993 to £20,000 and will seek to replace the separate postgraduate scheme in academic year 2020/21 with a single product that covers both postgraduate and undergraduates [3].
  4. Separately to this, SLC has recently published a letter where they have announced a very big change to the procurement process for the tender of equipment and training – it is now to include assessments.

Our response to announcements

We are calling for a delay in any implementation of the procurement process, and for all announced changes to be part of a full public consultation process. Currently there is very little information and detail that sits behind these announcements.

We believe that these may present some opportunities for blind and partially sighted students. However, we are concerned that these announcements, in particular the procurement process of a single supplier for assessments, equipment and training has the potential to further disenfranchise students with vision impairment.

For further information please contact Tara Chattaway, Policy Manager: Children and Young People at tara.chattaway@pocklington-trust.org.uk

References

[1] UK LFS. Reference Hewett, R and Keil, S (2015) Investigation of data relating to blind and partially sighted people in the Quarterly Labour Force Survey: October 2011-September 2014. VICTAR, University of Birmingham

[2] My Voice 2015: The views and experiences of blind and partially sighted people in the UK (2015). John Slade and Rose Edwards. RNIB.

[3] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/818638/tailored_review_of_the_students_loans_company.pdf


You can read more about our work on DSAs on the Children and Young People page