The government has revived its plans to cut back on direct public support for disabled students, forcing universities to take over the bulk of provision.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published a consultation on changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances, which would take effect from 2016-17.
The consultation says the government’s “preferred option” is that higher education institutions “have primary responsibility for providing certain NMH [non-medical help] support with DSAs used for specialist support or by exception”.
For categories of support for disabled students such as scribes, readers and proofreaders/text checkers, universities will be “expected to be the primary provider of this support” from 2016-17 onwards, the consultation says.
But for categories of support such as sign language interpreters and assistive technology trainers, DSAs will continue to be available, the consultation states.
Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, said last month when asked about the DSA cuts that universities “are best placed to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students”.
The government was forced to delay its plans for cuts to DSAs, originally planned to take effect for 2015-16, last year. David Willetts, the former universities and science minister who first unveiled the proposed changes, was branded “arrogant and out of touch” at the time by the National Union of Students over the “unfair” cuts.
About £127 million was paid in DSA to some 56,000 full-time students in 2012-13, according to the government.
The proportion of students claiming DSAs has grown “from around 7 per cent in 2010 to around 9.5 per cent in 2014”, according to the BIS consultation.
The consultation says that DSAs “would continue to supply additional support where it is unreasonable for the HE provider to supply the support, or the support is of a more specialist nature”.
BIS continues that it believes “changes to the way lectures and tutorials are delivered, coupled with improvements in assistive technology, may reduce the need for separate and dedicated non-medical help in some cases. For example, good practice emerging in HE providers delivers lecture notes in an electronic format meaning they can be easily accessed; similarly, complete lectures are being made available as downloads to view.
“This means that students can access the text electronically and manipulate it – via text to speech software for example – to present the text in a way that is most suitable for them.”
It adds that “under the current preferred option, no type of support in the areas outlined will be completely excluded in principle from DSAs funding”.
BIS invites submissions to the consultation from groups including disabled students, universities and disability charities, by the response deadline of 24 September.