Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (post-14)
Back in August last year, I wrote about the Government’s plans to make changes to Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) and our fears on how deaf students might be negatively affected. Six months on, it is time to revisit the situation and see where we are following our campaign.
The Government carried out a public consultation in September. Following the consultation, they announced they were going ahead with their plans to cut DSAs. Our main concern was that funding would no longer be available for manual note-takers who take notes for deaf students in lectures whilst they are lip-reading or following a sign language interpreter. I have some good news to report – the Government has recognised that this could put the education of deaf students at risk and have granted an exemption to the DSA changes for specialist note-takers for deaf or visually impaired students. This is someone who has received training on how to write comprehensive notes for deaf or VI students.
Provided that a DSA assessor makes a recommendation for a deaf student to receive a specialist note-taker, DSA funding will be available.
However, less good news is that there are some deaf students who make use of proof-reading services to ensure they are not unfairly disadvantaged when writing assignments by literacy difficulties. Proof-readers will no longer be funded by DSAs and responsibility for funding of this support now lies with universities.
What if this becomes an issue? The Government has introduced an Exceptional Case Process. Where a DSA assessor has made a recommendation for support that is to be provided by a university (e.g. proof-reading) and the university refuses to put in place this support, the student can apply to the Exceptional Case Process for temporary DSA funding to be put into place whilst a complaint is registered with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA).
We had concerns about the role of the OIA because traditionally it has taken a very long time to reach decisions (In 2014 cases took an average of 207 days to close). However, the Government has assured us the OIA will be expected to close the majority of its cases within 3 months in line with a European directive.
Finally, as well, as the changes to DSAs, the Government is introducing a registration system for providers of support funded through DSAs. We are uncertain as to whether this might mean there will be fewer interpreters and other forms of support available to deaf students.
We will be monitoring the impact of all of the changes and to do this we need your help. If you are a student at university or applying for support from DSAs and you do not have the support you need in place or have any problems, we want to hear about it. Contact our helpline to tell us about your experiences.
We want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in our DSA campaign. Your campaign actions helped to raise awareness of the potential impact the changes could have had on deaf students and played their part in ensuring that higher education remains accessible.
The changes in Martin’s article affect students applying for DSAs from Student Finance England only. DSAs will remain the same for students applying from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, the Welsh Government is currently considering whether to bring in changes to DSAs for the 2017-18 academic year.