Our Right to Study

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) provides a vital grant to support students with a disability to meet the additional costs involved with studying at university. Without this financial support many people with vision impairment simply wouldn’t be able to study.

We believe that whilst DSA has the potential to support students to engage with independent study. We are concerned that the system is extremely complicated, confusing and time intensive – and as a result is failing many students with vision impairment.

Our Right to Study campaign calls on the Department for Education (DfE) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) to take urgent steps to ensure that DSA works for students with vision impairment.

Why we are concerned

Applying for and accessing DSA can be an extremely complicated, confusing and time intensive system.

Some of the issues raised include:

  • Assessments are often conducted by assessors that do not understand the needs of students with vision impairment, and therefore the right support and equipment is not recommended;
  • Students starting their course, and having to wait for an unacceptable amount of time for equipment and Non-Medical Help (NMH) – which sometimes does not materialise;
  • Students having to pay out significant amounts of money to purchase equipment that they require to enable their studies. Either because of a poor assessment, or because of the expensive nature of specialist equipment the DSA equipment budget does not sufficiently cover costs.

The impact is that some students are having to repeat modules or are taking longer to complete their degrees because the right support is not in place. Unfortunately, we have evidence of some students dropping out of university as a consequence.

What we have been doing

Back in January 2019 we launched our report Our Right to Study, in partnership with RNIB and Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR) at parliament.

Based on research and student testimonials it sets out a number of recommendations for Government to ensure that DSA works for students with vision impairment.

The then Minister with responsibility for Universities, Chris Skidmore, met with 13 students and heard powerful accounts of their experiences of accessing DSA and attending university.

Eddy Eyad, a Business Management student at the University of Birmingham who attended the roundtable discussion and is vision impaired said:

“I felt the discussion today was very important because vision impairment does not get the spotlight it deserves, and it affects many students. It was great to be given a platform to voice our opinions and it could be the beginnings of an opportunity to push our concerns forward for some good outcomes.”

Since then we have met with DfE Education and the SLC, and we are building relationships with cross party MPs, who are supportive of our campaign. We will continue to put pressure on DfE.

What we are calling for

We would like to see a DSA system that ensures:

  • 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;
  • Non-Medical Help meets the needs of students with vision impairment. This must include taking steps to ensure that those with the relevant experience, knowledge and skills can support students;
  • That vision impaired students receive the equipment needed to support their studies in a timely manner.

To achieve this, we are calling on the DfE and SLC to carry out a full review of DSA. This must include engagement with students with vision impairment, providers, assessors, specialists and the third sector, and a full Equality Impact Assessment. This will help to mitigate any unforeseen negative implications for students with vision impairment.

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