Today I am announcing the Government response to a consultation on better targeting of Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs), which are available to Higher Education students from England.
Disabled Students’ Allowances are non-repayable grants that assist with the additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education. DSAs currently provide a range of support. This includes the purchase of specialist equipment, provision of support workers and assistance with additional travel costs. The support is not means tested and is available for eligible full-time and part-time students studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
I am determined to ensure that disabled students should be able to make use of and develop their talents through higher education and that there should be no cap on their aspirations. Ensuring that disabled people can access higher education is an important part of cutting the disability employment gap. I am extremely pleased that we have seen a rise in disabled students accessing higher education.
In 2012/13 DSAs provided £145.8 million of additional support for 64,500 disabled higher education students, compared with £101.3 million awarded to 47,400 students in 2009/10, a rise of around 44%.
A review of the DSAs scheme has been long overdue, and the rationale for reform has been the subject of two previous Statements. The DSAs system has been in its current form for nearly 25 years. The current arrangements do not recognise technological advances, increases in use of technology, or the introduction of the Equality Act 2010, which placed specific legal duties on higher education providers. The rise in the number of disabled students in higher education highlights the need for better provision of inclusive practices. My predecessors therefore announced a programme of reform of DSAs in April 2014 and September 2014.
There is widespread agreement that higher education providers should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students, as other organisations and businesses do. I believe HE providers share my ambition for the development of more inclusive
learning environments. The increasing numbers of disabled students entering HE is to be celebrated, as is the increasing numbers of those declaring their disability. However, it is possible that the continued provision of DSAs may have removed the urgency of some HE providers to expand provision for all disabled students. Higher education providers should increasingly expect disabled students to study with them and strive to ensure that those students have equal access to their learning. In recognition of this and the great work that some HEPs have already done to meet this end, the Minister for Disabled People and I can announce that BIS is looking into how it can encourage a sector-led approach to the sharing of good practices in the lead up to the changes and as they bed in.
The Government’s intention is that DSAs will remain available to support those disabled students who require additional help, but should complement the support put in place by HE providers to help all disabled students. Some reforms have already been implemented, with changes made to the funding of computer equipment from the academic year 2015/16.
My predecessor Greg Clark heard views from across the higher education sector and received representations from Honourable Members, and he and the previous Minister of State for Disabled People heard views and concerns from representatives of disabled students. Concern was expressed that some institutions were not able to meet their obligations in full by the beginning of the 2015/16 academic year, given their need to invest in additional support for their students. Accordingly changes to non-medical help and accommodation costs were deferred to the start of the 2016/17 academic year, to enable further consultation and additional time for institutions to prepare themselves.
I have undertaken a full public consultation which sought further information on the proposed reforms for 2016/17, and which set out the Government’s preferred options. I have considered the responses to the consultation, and have properly considered the Equality Analysis. The Minister for Disabled People and I can now announce that the original Government proposal will now be implemented from 2016/17, but further engagement with stakeholders will be undertaken to identify whether exceptions to the general rules for non-medical help (NMH) should be considered.
These changes will ensure that the limited public funding available for DSAs is targeted in the best way and to achieve value for money, whilst ensuring those disabled students most in need continue to get the help they require. They also aim to ensure that Higher Education providers all properly adhere to their Equalities Act 2010 duties, which is to the benefit of all disabled students.
The changes set out below seek to rebalance responsibilities between government funding and institutional support. We expect HE providers to play an increasing role in supporting all disabled students and are asking them to take primary responsibility in a number of areas. Disabled students will continue to be supported, but we believe that HE providers are better placed to consider how to respond in many cases, including giving greater consideration to the delivery of their courses and how to provide support. The need for some individual support may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HE providers to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.
DSAs will continue to retain primary responsibility for certain types of support, and will continue to be available across the range of support, where an adjustment by the HE provider may not be considered a reasonable adjustment.
The key changes, which will take effect from academic year 2016/17, are set out below:
- DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding Sighted Guides, for those students that need such support to enable them to get around campus effectively. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the remainder of the non-medical support roles that are classified as bands 1 or 2 in the Student Loans Company non-medical help (NMH) manual. We will seek further information from stakeholders, including from disabled students and their representatives, on whether specific exceptions to this general rule should apply. In addition, HE providers are expected to consider how they deliver information to students and whether strategies can be put in place to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their disabled students.
- DSAs will retain primary responsibility for funding the most specialist non-medical help support, that are set out in the SLC NMH manual under bands 3 and 4, with the exception of Specialist Transcription Services. HE providers will be expected to take primary responsibility for the provision of Specialist Transcription Services, other than by exception.
- DSAs will meet the additional costs of accommodation where that accommodation is not provided by the HE provider or its agent. DSAs funding will not be available where specialist accommodation is provided by the HE provider or their agent, other than by exception. HE providers should no longer pass any additional costs for accommodation onto the student.
- Devices for printing and scanning will continue to be funded through DSAs. However, HE providers are expected to strive to meet the needs of their disabled students to reduce the need for the purchase of individual devices for printing and scanning. The assessment process will be more robust and individual devices will only be funded if the need cannot be met through other measures.
- Standard computer peripherals and other accessories will now be funded by exception only. Laptop carry cases will continue to be provided as standard to help students protect their equipment.
The Minister for Disabled People and I are passionate about the importance of ensuring that disabled students can fully participate in higher education. Recognising that there is an implementation journey to undertake, an Exceptional Case Process will be put in place to respond to cases where the individual circumstances mean that an institution does not provide the support that is expected, or the needs of the student are such that it may not be reasonable to expect the institution to provide the support in the individual case. The Exceptional Case Process will be monitored to ensure that it remains timely, robust and fit for purpose.
In parallel a new quality assurance framework will be put in place to ensure financial and quality assurance of the provision of non-medical help. The Minister for Disabled People and I expect all disabled students to have access to good quality support and that public funding is managed effectively in the delivery of that support. Changes to the way equipment will be purchased in the future are also being explored, to ensure value for money is achieved in this area.
The changes in this Statement will apply to all full-time, full-time distance learning, part-time and postgraduate students applying for DSAs for the first time in respect of an academic year beginning on or after 1 September 2016.
Existing DSAs students and DSAs students for 2015/16 will remain on their existing system of support for 2016/17.
We are grateful to all those who have engaged for their assistance in informing these changes.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords