Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Fears 80% of disabled students could drop out if disability support is cut too fast

examstressFour in 5 students with disabilities (79%) say they will be more likely to drop out of university if cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) fall during their time as students and universities do not have time to provide alternative support, according to a survey.

This could mean 42,000 students dropping out of their courses, out of the 53,000 full-time students who currently claim DSA support, according to disability support specialist Randstad Student and Worker Support.

The DSA allows students to access specialist support and equipment so they can attend university along with their non-disabled peers. But the Government intends to restrict what services the DSA can be used for and favours a narrower definition of specialist support.

But more than a third (37%) of the 200 students polled by Randstand said they will be much more likely not to finish their course, while 42% say dropping out would be slightly more probable without the current level of support.

Only 21% of current students say cuts to their DSA support would make no difference to their chances of completing their course.

Randstand believe 92% of students with disabilities receive at least one form of DSA support which is likely to be cut under the planned changes.

Most areas of support are likely to become ineligible for funding under any new system restricted to only those disabilities that fall within the Equality Act. Examples include dyslexia tuition (received by 47% of disabled students), study skills tuition (32%), library assistance (30%), note taking (27%) and proof reading (received by 21%).

Overall, the vast majority of students with a disability receive more than one form of support via DSAs. Only 35% list only one single specific area of support, while 24% list two and 19% rely on three different forms of assistance. Moreover, 22% of disabled students receive four or more different forms of support under the current DSA regime.

Victoria Short, managing director of Randstad Student and Worker Support, said: “We are concerned that these changes are being rushed through. If expected to pick up the baton for the rights of disabled students, then universities urgently need more information – and much more time.”

Importance of DSA

Availability of the DSA is also a major factor for students with disabilities considering whether to attend university in the first place.

More than one in three students with a disability (34%) said they would definitely not have attended university without DSA support, while a further 36% were unsure if they would have originally attended. Only 30% of students with a disability would still definitely have decided to go to university without the support of the DSA.

The major reason for this appears to be the cost of studying for students with disabilities. More than three quarters (76%) say attending university as a disabled student is more expensive than for others.

“Tens of thousands of students would suffer if these reforms go ahead in the timescales planned,” Short added. “Universities could, in time, directly supply the same support as the centrally funded DSA. But this needs to be funded. Otherwise other activity will presumably be cut back in turn.

“What is certain is that students with disabilities are going to see significant changes, which could seriously affect their academic and life chances. Change on this scale deserves the time for careful consideration.”

False economy

Indeed, if unable to complete their studies as a result of the withdrawal of DSA support, 87% of students with a disability said this would harm their employment prospects, unless their university has time to put in place alternative measures.

Moreover, three quarters of students (75%) would expect more people to need to claim other forms of benefit such as jobseeker’s allowances if DSA were withdrawn without an alternative, due to the adverse effects on employment prospects.

“Both universities and the government are to be praised for the progress that has already been made for students with disabilities, after more than 20 years of the DSA. Moreover, in the current climate, many in the higher education sector recognise the pressing need to review all areas of government funding.

“But this is exactly why we must avoid rushed decisions and beware the danger of false economies.”

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