Government Changes to DSA 2016/2017 – an overview

In December 2015 the government announced that it was going ahead with proposed changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, following a period of public consultation. The changes to DSA reduce government spending by passing the responsibility of a proportion of it onto higher education providers.

The government state that their policy reasons for doing so are to:

  • modernise DSA and bring it in line with changes to technology and the introduction of the Equalities Act 2010
  • rebalance responsibility, recognising those placed on higher education providers by the Equalities Act
  • encourage better inclusive practice from higher education providers
  • encourage higher education providers to anticipate the study needs of disabled students
    • for example, if the higher education provider provides lecture recordings as a matter of course, it will reduce the need for individual notetakers for students as they can watch the lectures back in their own time
  • encourage market competition from support and equipment providers

There has been a lot of confusion over how these changes will affect the provision of DSA, and we hope to clear some of this up in this post.


Do the DSA Changes apply to me?

15975-a-pair-of-glasses-with-a-stack-of-books-pv
A pair of glasses resting atop of a pile of books.

The changes to DSA will apply only to students who are applying for the first time in the 2016/2017 academic year. If you currently receive DSA and applied for it before the end of the 2015/2016, the changes to the funding structure of DSA will not apply to you, and the government will continue to cover the cost of all your study support. This will be the case until you graduate, providing you continue to receive DSA without having to apply from scratch – if you suspend your studies and re-apply, you may fall under the new rules.

The changes also only apply to English students. If you are a Welsh, Scottish, or Northern Ireland national then these changes do not yet apply to you. You will continue to receive DSA under the old rules, even if you apply in the 2016/17 academic year.


What was covered by DSA up until the end of the 2015/2016 academic year?

DSA prior to the end of the 2015/2016 academic year funded:

  • All non-medical help
    • i.e. the support workers who assist students in day to day tasks, or promote skill developers – these are categorised into 4 bandsBAND 1 and 2:
      Laboratory assistant
      Library support assistant
      Examination support
      Note-taking support

      BAND 3 and 4:
      SpLD tutor
      Specialist AT trainer
      Specialist Mentor
      BSL interpreter

  • Equipment
    • e.g. computer hardware, assistive software, ergonomic furniture
  •  Travel
    • e.g. taxi costs to and from lectures
  •  General
    • e.g. printing costs, costs for specialist accommodation

What has changed in the new 2016/2017 DSA?

Startup Stock Photos
Image Description: A photo of a woman sitting at a desk, writing on her laptop.

The government no longer funds the cost of:

  • non-medical help, bands 1 and 2
  • computer provision – there is now a £200 student fee if a laptop is needed, which the is justified by the statement that laptops are required now by all students, regardless of disability
  • specialist accommodation
  • non-core book allowance
    • core textbooks will still be provided
  • unlimited printing and consumables
    • there is now a cap on printing and consumables
  • mobility aids
    • these are now the responsibility of the NHS
  • Specific Learning Difficulty and Autistic Spectrum Disorder assessments

With the exception of mobility aids, these costs have been passed onto the higher education providers, and they are now responsible for funding this support.

However, the government will still cover the cost of:

  • non-medical help bands 3 and 4
    • however, universities are no longer allowed to provide ‘in house’ support and must open these to other providers, who offer competitive prices
  • assistive software and computer peripherals
    • e.g. dictation software, laptop bags
  • digital voice recorders
  • ergonomic equipment
  • travel – but with new payment procedure
  • existing DSA, granted prior to the end of the 2015/2016 academic year

There are also increased demands of evidence in the application process.


What is Oxford doing in response to this?

Oxford has set aside a £60,000 fund for non-medical help no longer provided by the government to cover the transition period of 2016/2017. This will go towards funding lab, reading, study and library assistance, scribes, examination support workers, sighted guides, proof reading, and note-taking for students who fall under the new rules. As far as we are aware, the university will also provide the cost of SpLD and ASD assessments.

Colleges will fund and provide specialist accommodation, printing (if required), and enhance their application process for financial support for students with disabilities.

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Image Description: A close up photo of a shared desk, focusing on a person handwriting notes.

The DAS has also commissioned an independent report into inclusive practices at Oxford, which aims to identify inclusive teaching practice and make recommendations for a better experience for disabled students at Oxford.

 


What is OSDC doing?

We have been and will continue to work to ensure that the level of support disabled students at Oxford receive remains consistent. We are working alongside the OUSU, and with the Disability Advisory Service, attending meetings with the University and lodging our concerns where we foresee risks of the standard of support dropping. We have also been working with Katharine Terrell, the independent researcher for the inclusive practice report, contributing our experiences and encouraging students to contribute their own.

If you have any questions about the DSA changes, please get in touch with us and we’ll do our best to help. You can email us at oxdisability@ousu.ox.ac.uk , tweet us at @oxdisability , or post a comment in our facebook group (for current students only)

 

Written and edited by Sam Pugh
Many thanks to Anwen Jones for providing and clarifying information

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