The government has confirmed that it will push ahead with its plans to reduce direct public support for disabled students, forcing universities to pay for the bulk of provision.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that the existing system of Disabled Students’ Allowances “may have removed the urgency of some higher education providers to expand provision for all disabled students” and that, from 2016-17, English institutions should take “primary responsibility” for a number of areas of support.
In a written statement, Mr Johnson said that DSAs would continue to be available, but that they should serve to “complement the support put in place” by universities.
The changes mean that, from September, universities rather than the government will be responsible for funding the provision of non-medical support staff, such as scribes, note takers, readers and proofreaders. More specialist roles such as sign language interpreters will still be funded using DSAs.
In future, DSAs will not be available to pay for any additional costs of specialist accommodation on campus, and funding for computer accessories will also be reduced.
The cuts had originally been planned for 2015-16, but were postponed by Greg Clark, Mr Johnson’s predecessor, who said that universities needed more time to prepare for the changes. The proposals were revived in July, despite opposition from vice-chancellors.
In his statement, Mr Johnson said that the government had spent £145.8 million on DSAs for 64,500 students, compared with the £101.3 million outlay on 47,400 students three years earlier – a 44 per cent rise.
Higher education providers, Mr Johnson said, “should increasingly expect disabled students to study with them and strive to ensure that those students have equal access to their learning”.
“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,” the minister said.