From education to employment

New system for Disabled Student Allowance still risks “creating barriers to higher education”

The new system for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) is being simplified, but there are still challenges in applying and funding, according to a Birmingham City University (BCU) inclusive education expert.

It comes as Capita and Study Tech Ltd will face MPs over contracts to run Disabled Students’ Allowance today (23rd April), where two companies will run assessments of students in England and Wales who apply for DSA.

In 2019/2020 there were more than 132,000 university students who declared a disability, which is up 47% compared to 2014/2015.

Jessica Wythe, from BCU’s School of Education, wants to see more flexibility for students with disabilities who may see their needs or circumstances change while at university, or could be prevented from attending or continuing higher education without access to appropriate funding.

She says “This new system will provide more tailored support for disabled university students as well as simplifying the application process for DSA, which can be especially daunting for someone with a disability or impairment.

“It’ll also make it easier to access necessary technology and support which will enhance a student’s educational experience and success, leading to better graduate job opportunities.

“However, some students still find their allowance are insufficient to cover the full costs of support and may not accommodate changes in need or circumstances, which may put up barriers to higher education.

“The process of applying and being accepted for DSA can be challenging in itself. This could create a financial strain and barriers to accessing necessary resources for their education, which would not only impact their learning progress, but also other factors, such as mental health and independence.”

Meanwhile, the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion for BCU’s Student Union, Pravjoth Gill, says she’s concerned about how students with more complex needs will have their DSA calculated.

She says “There’s still a real need for face-to-face assessments which can help students provide a more comprehensive overview of how their disability affects their education and daily life.

“BCU is in the process of understanding the new system and what it means for ensuring that we can provide appropriate support for our disabled students.”

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