Changes to Disabled Students Allowances, intended to encourage universities to take greater responsibility over the additional non-medical costs incurred by disabled students, will be postponed until 2016/17, the Universities and Science Minister has announced.
MP Gregg Clark made the announcement in a written ministerial statement on Friday, after concerns were raised that universities may not be able to meet the full obligations by 2015/16.
Disabled Students Allowances are non-repayable grants used to assist with the additional costs disabled students incur. This may include purchasing specialist computers and equipment to aid them in their studies. The grants can also be used to fund travel costs and/or support workers.
61,000 disabled students received grants from the higher education budget in 2011/12, amounting to over £144 million.
Mr Clark said: “There was widespread agreement that universities should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students, as other organisations do.
“However, concern was conveyed that some universities may not be able to meet their obligations in full by the beginning of the 2015/16 academic year, given their need to invest in additional support for their students.”
Mr Clark said that he and the Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP, have listened to the concerns and suggestions from representatives of disabled people and other members of parliament.
“For the academic year 2015/16, we will continue to provide Disabled Students’ Allowance funding to help with the additional cost of a computer and assistive software if needed solely because of the student’s impairment”, he said.
However, he added that the decision “will be subject to the student contributing the first £200 of the computer’s cost – broadly equivalent to the cost of a basic computer. For future academic years we will explore a bulk purchasing scheme for such computers to keep costs down”.
Items such as books and printers will not be provided, said Mr Clark. Universities will be expected to provide disabled students with print services, books and journals in electronic format.
“Funding will remain available towards the additional costs of specialised accommodation for disabled students, other than where the accommodation is provided by the institution or an agent of the institution”, he added.
The changes will apply to all existing disabled students in full-time education, full-time distance learning and postgraduate students applying for Disabled Students Allowances for the first time.
Postponing the requirement on universities to find alternative solutions to Disabled Students Allowances will allow the government “to ensure the changes are introduced effectively”, said Mr Clark.
When the cuts were initially announced by the former Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, they were slammed as “arrogant and out of touch” by the National Union of Students (NUS).