The Government has announced plans to modernise the disabled students’ allowance, they say that the current arrangements do not recognise technological advances, increases in use of technology nor the introduction of the Equality Act 2010.
The changes would come in to effect for new students in the academic year 2015/16.
The Government believe that some of the support currently provided through DSA should be provided by Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) as part of their obligations under the Equality Act (EA). HEIs will be expected to provide the support that could be considered a reasonable adjustment. There will be no additional funding to support HEIs to do this.
RNIB and many other organisations are worried that the changes will have an impact on students with disabilities, possibly making it harder to secure the right support and to have it in place for when they start their course. The real worry is that people with disabilities may be put off of considering higher education.
What can you do?
We are campaigning to ensure that people with sight loss receive the support that they need to enter Higher Education. We need to make sure that MPs and Peers understand just how important DSA is in providing that support for blind and partially sighted students.
We’d like to hear what support DSA provided to you? Did you use Note Takers or Transcribers, did you have a Sighted Guide or a Reader? What other support did DSA provide? We’d really like to hear from you if you received support and would be happy to talk about how it made a positive difference to you during your course, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have a number of concerns about the process around the changes and the impact of the changes on blind and partially sighted students. The Government are still developing the regulations and the guidance for HEIs so we don’t have much clarity on some fundamental issues.
It is not clear what a reasonable adjustment will be. What could be considered reasonable for some Universities may not be for others. There will be no additional funding provided to help HEIs provide this support. We don’t know what will happen if a University doesn’t make reasonable adjustments or fails to provide appropriate support to a student. Will we end up with a situation where some students have to fight every step of the way to secure support they need to study?
Changes to the way in which Non Medical Help (NMH) is provided could possibly impact on students with sight loss who use Note Takers, Sighted Guides and Readers.
There has been no formal consultation on the full range of proposals. Without inviting disabled students and those organisations who represent them to submit evidence or get involved in developing the proposals how can BIS and the Government ensure that their assumptions about the support that is needed and how it should be organised are right?
The Equalities Impact Assessment is being carried out subsequent to the policy being formulated, surely this is the wrong way around?
The changes, proposed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), undermine assurances given by the Department for Education (DfE) in reply to pressure put on the Government to extend the scope of the Children and Families Bill to cover Higher Education.
Yet, seven months after this debate HEIs have been instructed that DSA will no longer be available for a host of services upon which thousands of disabled students rely. While we accept that Higher Education Institutions must make the reasonable adjustments required by the Equality Act we are concerned that the process for reviewing DSA is deeply flawed.
We are pressing for DfE to reconsider the process for reviewing DSA and create opportunities for disabled students, higher education institutions and organisations such as RNIB to evidence the ways in which DSA supports students and suggest ways in which the system could be improved.
SEC believes that any reform to DSA should start with the intention to improve disabled young people’s access to higher education.
While SEC agrees that universities must fulfill their obligations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act, it is unclear how restricting support currently available through DSA will achieve this.
In particular, SEC believes that the process of reform to date has been deeply flawed. Decisions have been made with no formal consultation, no assessment of the potential impact on disabled students, and no details of how these changes will be implemented. SEC’s members were not part of any meaningful discussions on this issue and we are not aware of disabled people themselves having been involved.
The timing of these proposed changes is also particularly disappointing. During recent debates on the Children and Families Act 2014, MPs and Peers were given repeated assurances that there was no need to bring higher education institutions into scope of the new birth-25 SEN framework due to the comprehensive support provided through DSA. Now, two months after the Bill received Royal Assent, significant changes are being proposed to a system that was described as working very successfully. SEC believes there is a lack of consistency to the Government’s approach to supporting disabled students across the Departments for Education and for Business, Innovation and Skills.
SEC is calling on the Government to halt the current timetable for reform. If the Government believes that DSA could be improved, we urge them to develop a robust set of policy proposals, properly assess the likely consequences on disabled students, and hold a full public consultation. SEC would be happy to support them in this process. However, if the Government presses ahead without understanding the full impact of its proposals, it risks undermining its own intention to support disabled young people to reach their full potential including through access to higher education.
The regulations and guidance on what support the Government would expect HEIs to provide and what would be covered by DSA are being developed. The Regulations are expected to be published soon and the guidance for HEIs is expected in September.
We are very concerned; it is too early to say how this will impact on people with sight loss.