Buried in yesterday’s Written Ministerial Statement from Michelle Donelan on fee and loan levels for 2021-22 is a plan to replace the current four strands of the disabled student allowance (DSA) with a single scheme capped at £25,000 per year for full-time and part-time undergraduate students. The travel allowance will, as now, be uncapped – sitting outside this maximum.
Currently, a student claiming the maximum allowance for a non-medical helper (£23,251 a year), the general allowance (£1,954 a year), and the equipment grant (£5,849 for the course, so £1,950 for each year of a three year course) would be eligible to be awarded a maximum of £27,162 each year – meaning that students in this situation, including current students, would lose up to £2,161 a year.
To be clear, the impact is on a small number of students but these are likely to be among the most severely disabled who are using the maximum allocation from multiple DSA strands. The impact assessment of the forthcoming regulations, which will need to be laid before both houses, will make for interesting reading.
We asked DfE for a comment, and they told us that:
“We are committed to supporting students with disabilities and the overall level of funding for the Disabled Students’ Allowance is not decreasing. The new flexibility we are introducing means that many disabled students will be able to access more funding than before through the combined allowances.”
The department claims that under the current system it is extremely rare for DSA recipients to access the maximum amounts for both medical help and equipment, and that more often recipients access close to the maximum of one allowance and use very little of the other. Though this is likely correct, students in this “extremely rare” situation will suffer disproportionately.
The remainder of the statement contains few surprises – maintenance grants go up by 3.1 per cent (linked to forecast inflation) and the higher level fee cap remains at £9,250 for 2020-21 – though the usual inflation-linked increase for DSA is gone. But the cut to the funds available to students that need the most support to perform to their full potential is deeply concerning.