Figures published by the Snowdon Trust, a charity that supports disabled students, suggest that postgraduates are most likely to be affected by a shortfall in funding.
According to the report, 56.2 per cent of postgraduates with disabilities said they had experienced financial difficulties at university compared with 29.2 per cent of undergraduates. Since 2008, five times as many postgraduates have applied for additional grants from the Trust.
Under the current system postgraduates can receive a maximum of £10,260 a year in DSA, less than half of the amount available for undergraduates. According to the Snowdon survey, the disabled postgraduate students find they have an average shortfall in their finances of £2,894, around £140 more than the shortfall experienced by undergraduates.
The most common reasons given for this gap in funding for both undergraduate and postgraduate students were the cost of human support, computer-based equipment and travel.
For example, mobility equipment and accommodation for carers are not covered by the DSA, as these are regarded as not directly related to study.
Chris Firmin, a PhD student in clinical psychology at the University of Bath quoted in the report, who is supported by the Snowdon Trust, said: “Due to my cerebral palsy I struggle to do any of the typing or physical aspects of the course, so I need an assistant for up to nine hours a day, five days a week. Unfortunately, because I am a postgraduate, the disabled students allowance will only pay for about four months of my assistant’s salary.”
Students with visual and hearing impairments also frequently require additional financial support. The maximum amount available to a postgraduate student through the DSA would only fund one hour a day of sign language support for someone with a hearing impairment.
Paul Alexander, chief executive of the Snowdon Trust, said: “[T]here is still a way to go for disabled people to have real equal opportunity in higher education.
“Some of the brightest people are being denied the opportunity to achieve their true educational potential – yet this is their best route to future employment and greater financial independence.
“It seems wrong for someone to have to undergo a specific assessment of their additional disability-related needs only then to be told that all their identified needs are not going to be provided for…We would like to see the present arbitrary caps on Disabled Students’ Allowances scrapped completely.”
The Snowdon Trust, formerly the Snowdon Award Scheme, was founded in 1981 in order to “help disabled young people gain an equal footing”.
In March, the universities and science minister David Willetts announced that the DSA would increase by 1 per cent for 2014-15.