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There has been a big downturn in the number of students applying for Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) following the introduction of a £200 levy towards the cost of equipment.
And new research by BATA, published in a report entitled The Negative Impact on Disabled Students of the Introduction of a £200 Levy on Disabled Student Allowances, points to that fact that many students fail to apply for the grant because they struggle to pay the charge.
During the period between July 2015 and June 2016, government statistics show there was a 21% decrease in the number of students taking up their grant for equipment, despite a 10% increase in the number of student assessments for those seeking DSAs.
As many as 10,000 students may not have taken up their equipment grant and the only significant change to the provision of DSAs during that time was the introduction of the £200 contribution.
The Department for Education acknowledges the fall but says there is no evidence that the £200 charge is responsible.
It argues that all students require a computer and DSAs are only designed to offset the additional expense of the equipment for those who need it. Hence the £200 levy.
“Increasingly, standard software packages have assistive solutions included. This includes speech to text capability in Microsoft Office 365, which the vast majority of students can access at no cost to them,” wrote Universities Minister Jo Johnson in response to enquiries by BATA members.
“It is possible that students decide that this meets their needs and that they already have a suitable computer, and they therefore decide not to order any further equipment as they would need to pay a £200 contribution towards new hardware.”
However, a survey of some 800 students by BATA this summer shows that a significant number of them cite affordability as the reason for not taking up their equipment, or for delaying their application.
The survey found that 10% of surveyed students had not paid their £200 contribution and 69% of those who had not paid said they could not afford to do so.
Additionally, 30% of those who did pay took more than one month to do so, due to affordability, while 42% of respondents said the contribution negatively impacted their learning.
“When you are already struggling to pay for university, have to pay £9,000 per year, and attempting to afford the living costs of London, this is an absolute struggle to pay the contribution,” said one respondent.
“This is a large cost for a disabled person to pay, just to assist their own learning.”
BATA strongly disputes the need for the charge and the argument that students can use off-the-peg software.
“Not all students own a laptop, therefore it is not standard mainstream cost for all students, says the report.
“More importantly, a student without a learning difficulty can easily cope with the IT service provided by the higher education institution; however this is simply not the case for students with specific learning difficulties or disabilities.”
On the software issue BATA argues “tools provided by Microsoft are very basic and not suitable to support students that in many cases have complicated needs.”