- Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) provides ‘vital support for many disabled students’.
- Nearly 1,500 disabled students registered at Leicester Uni.
- Proposed cut by Higher Education minister David Willets would see loss of laptops, living allowance, and non-medical support to many disabled students.
- NUS launches ‘Degrees of Discrimination’ campaign in protest.
Students from all sides of the political spectrum joined the growing condemnation of the proposed cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), the financial and material lifeline for disabled students in higher education.
An online petition opposing the cuts has seen over 800 signatures in under a week, whilst a campaign rally was held in Leicester town centre on Friday.
The cuts have been proposed by Minister for Higher Education, David Willets. In a statement published in April, Willet’s claimed the new measurewould ‘modernise’ the DSA mechanism. He went on to provide a vague outline of the areas likely to be affected, namely removing grants for new laptops for the majority of DSA claimants, the replacement of all but the most ‘specialist Non-Medical Help’ (such as staff assisting with learning difficulties like dyslexia) with new ‘strategies’ from individual Universities, designed ‘to reduce the need for support workers and encourage greater independence and autonomy for their students.’ Willet’s also announced that the definition of ‘disabled’ within the DSA scheme will be brought in line with the 2010 Equality Act, and that ‘the additional costs of specialist accommodation will no longer be met byDSAs, other than in exceptional circumstances.’
The proposed changes could be put in place as early as 2016.
The opposition in Leicester is being led by the Students’ Union. Sean Kelly-Walsh, the recently re-elected sabb for Engagement, told The Ripple: “The Disabled Students’ Allowance is a vital support for many disabled students, without which many would not be able to access higher or further education. I oppose cuts to the DSA as access to education should not be limited by disability.”
He went on to claim that the anti-cuts petition’s signatories must “agree that every student who wants to achieve should have the resources and support they need,” going on to say, “I have received testimonials from a number of disabled students, all uniquely showing how the support and funding is required to enable them to study.
“There are 1,472 disabled students currently registered with the university, and none of them, or students in the future, should be denied the chance to the best education.”
Yordan Nikolov, sabb-elect for Education, similarly told The Ripple he opposed the cuts: “because I think they will negatively influence the lives of many people by not allowing them to fulfil their potential. Not only can this deprive disabled students of the amazing opportunity that education is, but it may also slash long-term innovation prospects.”
One student currently receiving DSA said: “I am firmly against the planned DSA cuts across the board. From experience, the help with accommodation and other non-medical issues provided by the DSA has been an essential factor in making my university experience so enjoyable and stress-free,” highlighting the importance of DSA support for disabled students studying away from home, who are often forced out of necessity to stay in pricy University accomodation for the entire length of their degree.
However, the student did comment that: “I would advocate a complete overhaul of the technical support system, as it is not fit for purpose and has evolved into a gadget giveaway,” echoing Willet’s statement with regards to the DSA’s IT technology scheme, that “the current arrangements do not recognise technological advances.”
The NUS is leading the anti-cuts campaign, with one NUS officer describing the proposed cuts as ‘arrogant’, claiming that the government was “out of touch to assume that disabled students can access ‘basic’ equipment or that universities will accept the new responsibilities ministers are seeking to place on them.”