Policy Position: Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) reforms
The procurement of needs assessments, assistive technology and training for DSA
What will change?
The Student Loans Company (SLC) is changing the way in which assessments, assistive technology and assistive training for Disabled Students’ Allowance operates in England and Wales.
From early April providers will be able to bid to deliver:
- Training, and
- Central support (providing a single point of contact for students)
DSA provision has been split into four regions, these broadly are the North (including Humber); Wales and the Midlands; South West and South East; and London and East of England.
The announcement identifies the importance of quality and accountability.
The anticipated outcome is that students will still apply to the SLC to determine their eligibility for DSA, but they will then only have one point of contact to organise the rest of their support for the above services. Students will still need to have a role in organising their non-medical help and travel as these are not covered by these reforms.
What issue are the DSA reforms trying to address?
The DSA reforms are a result of blind and partially sighted student’s experiences of navigating what can be for some a difficult journey through the DSA process. The aim is to improve the student journey, and to address a number of ‘pain points’ (long process, having to contact multiple companies, lack of clarity of where they are in the journey, no straightforward complaints process).
These issues and many others have been highlighted by blind and partially sighted students. See our report ‘Our right to study’, for further information. However, the one message that is clear from students is the importance of DSA in enabling them to engage with their studies.
The Student Loans Company (SLC), which administers DSA, has also said it would like to improve value for money.
We welcome any changes to the DSA process that make the journey easier and less stressful to navigate for blind and partially sighted students.
We are pleased to see a focus on quality and accountability within the announcement. We welcome that charities, and organisations that support disabled students will be engaged with and involved throughout the process. It is important that student voice is represented.
To ensure that quality and accountability of services is delivered to disabled students, we are calling on the SLC to consider the following within the procurement framework:
- Assessors have disability-specific expertise and approved training to ensure their knowledge is up to date.
- Accessible assessments (for example, centres have clear ways of asking about and providing for communication support ahead of the assessment).
- An ability to offer choice across a range of equipment and software, including choice between manufacturers where applicable.
- The option of a face-to-face specialist assessment that can be held in a student’s locality.
- Regular communication with students throughout the process, updating students on key dates such as delivery of equipment and assessment reports.
- Recording and reporting of the time taken to process student applications.
- A thorough transition plan is in place to prevent disruption for students as the new way of working is adopted.
- An independent mode of quality assurance is in place to ensure the new system/assessment centres are delivering an effective and timely service for our disabled learners.
- That no students are negatively impacted on as the new contract is introduced.
All blind and partially sighted students should 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.
What will happen next
The market engagement preview document has been published, which will allow time for interested parties to identify any partners they may want form an alliance with.
Further details will be announced soon, including details of the bid and deadlines for submissions.
Thomas Pocklington Trust looks forward to engaging with the SLC to discuss the needs of blind and partially sighted students within this new framework.
You can read more about the reforms on:
What is DSA?
DSA is a grant that helps university students meet the extra cost they may face because of their disability. Read more on DSA including information on the application and assessment processes and tech support in our handy guide:
For further information
Please contact: Studentsupport@pocklington-trust.org.uk
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