Disabled Students’ Allowance caps ‘should be scrapped’

Caps on the Disabled Students’ Allowance mean that students are not receiving the support they need, a recent report has claimed

Figures published by the Snowdon Trust, a charity that supports disabled students, suggest that postgraduates are most likely to be affected by a shortfall in funding.

According to the report, 56.2 per cent of postgraduates with disabilities said they had experienced financial difficulties at university compared with 29.2 per cent of undergraduates. Since 2008, five times as many postgraduates have applied for additional grants from the Trust.

Under the current system postgraduates can receive a maximum of £10,260 a year in DSA, less than half of the amount available for undergraduates. According to the Snowdon survey, the disabled postgraduate students find they have an average shortfall in their finances of £2,894, around £140 more than the shortfall experienced by undergraduates.

The most common reasons given for this gap in funding for both undergraduate and postgraduate students were the cost of human support, computer-based equipment and travel.

For example, mobility equipment and accommodation for carers are not covered by the DSA, as these are regarded as not directly related to study.

Chris Firmin, a PhD student in clinical psychology at the University of Bath quoted in the report, who is supported by the Snowdon Trust, said: “Due to my cerebral palsy I struggle to do any of the typing or physical aspects of the course, so I need an assistant for up to nine hours a day, five days a week. Unfortunately, because I am a postgraduate, the disabled students allowance will only pay for about four months of my assistant’s salary.”

Students with visual and hearing impairments also frequently require additional financial support. The maximum amount available to a postgraduate student through the DSA would only fund one hour a day of sign language support for someone with a hearing impairment.

Paul Alexander, chief executive of the Snowdon Trust, said: “[T]here is still a way to go for disabled people to have real equal opportunity in higher education.

“Some of the brightest people are being denied the opportunity to achieve their true educational potential – yet this is their best route to future employment and greater financial independence.

“It seems wrong for someone to have to undergo a specific assessment of their additional disability-related needs only then to be told that all their identified needs are not going to be provided for…We would like to see the present arbitrary caps on Disabled Students’ Allowances scrapped completely.”

The Snowdon Trust, formerly the Snowdon Award Scheme, was founded in 1981 in order to “help disabled young people gain an equal footing”.

In March, the universities and science minister David Willetts announced that the DSA would increase by 1 per cent for 2014-15.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Register to continue  

You've enjoyed reading five THE articles this month. Register now to get five more, or subscribe for unrestricted access.

Most Commented

  • Woman taking homeopathic medicine

Alternative treatments in healthcare plan is latest in a series of homeopathy-related controversies

  • Man lying beneath rugby pile-up

Six academics share their experiences before delivering a verdict on the system

  • Zygmunt Bauman with hand over mouth

Eminent sociologist has recycled 90,000 words of material across a dozen books, claims paper

  • Foot about to step on banana peel

Kevin Haggerty and Aaron Doyle offer tips on making postgraduate study even tougher (which students could also use to avoid pitfalls if they prefer)

Phil Baty explains why hundreds of research papers will not be considered when compiling the next Times Higher Education rankings