Planned cuts to Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) could have a detrimental impact on the academic and employment prospects of affected students, according to a poll of 200 students with disabilities, carried out by the disability support specialist Randstad Student & Worker Support.

Unless universities can find replacement funds in time, the proportion of disabled students dropping out of university will increase dramatically after the withdrawal of DSA grants, as planned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Impact of rapid changes on access to higher education

If cuts to the DSA fall during their time as students, and universities do not have time to provide alternative support, four in five students with disabilities (79%) say they will be more likely to drop out of university as a result.

This could mean 42,000 students dropping out of their courses, out of the 53,000 full time students who currently claim DSA support.

More than a third of these students (37%) say they will be much more likely not to finish their course, while 42% say dropping out would be slightly more probable without the current level of support.

Only 21% of current students say cuts to their DSA support would make no difference to their chances of completing their course.

Victoria Short, managing director of Randstad Student and Worker Support, comments“We are concerned that these changes are being rushed through.  If expected to pick up the baton for the rights of disabled students, then universities urgently need more information – and much more time.”

Availability of the DSA is also a major factor for students with disabilities considering whether to attend university in the first place.

More than one in three students with a disability (34%) say they would definitely not have attended university without DSA support, while a further 36% are unsure if they would have originally attended. Less than one in three students with a disability (30%) would still definitely have decided to go to university without the support of the DSA.

The major reason for this appears to be the cost of studying for students with disabilities. More than three quarters (76%) say attending university as a disabled student is more expensive than for others.

Victoria Short continues: “Tens of thousands of students would suffer if these reforms go ahead in the timescales planned.  Universities could, in time, directly supply the same support as the centrally funded DSA.  But this needs to be funded.  Otherwise other activity will presumably be cut back in turn.

“What is certain is that students with disabilities are going to see significant changes, which could seriously affect their academic and life chances.  Change on this scale deserves the time for careful consideration.”

Under current classifications planned cuts will affect 92%

Less than a third of students with disabilities receive support which is set to escape the impending cuts. This includes mental health mentoring and interpreting support. In total, these students represent just 27% of those in receipt of DSA allowances.

However 19% of disabled students receive both a non-threatened and a threatened form of support. This leaves only 8% who will be completely unaffected by the planned changes to eligibility.

The remaining 92% of students with disabilities receive at least one form of DSA support which is likely to be cut under the planned changes – or in other words 48,000 students will be affected by the planned cuts.

Most areas of support are likely to become ineligible for funding under any new system restricted to only those disabilities that fall within the Equality Act. Examples include dyslexia tuition (received by 47% of disabled students), study skills tuition (useful for 32%), library assistance (30%), note taking (27%) and proof reading (received by 21%).

Overall, the vast majority of students with a disability receive more than one form of support via Disabled Students Allowances. Only around a third (35%) list only one single specific area of support, while 24% list two and 19% rely on three different forms of assistance. Moreover, 22% of disabled students receive four or more different forms of support under the current DSA regime.

Three quarters say rapid changes would be a false economy

If unable to complete their studies as a result of the withdrawal of DSA support, 87% of students with a disability say this would harm their employment prospects, unless their university has time to put in place alternative measures.

Only 2% of disabled students say losing all such support would not affect their prospects for employment, while 11% are unsure what the effect would be.

Moreover, three quarters of students (75%) would expect more people to need to claim other forms of benefit such as jobseekers allowances if DSA were withdrawn without an alternative, due to the adverse effects on employment prospects.

Victoria Short concludes: “Both universities and the government are to be praised for the progress that has already been made for students with disabilities, after more than twenty years of the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA).  Moreover, in the current climate, many in the higher education sector recognise the pressing need to review all areas of government funding.

“But this is exactly why we must avoid rushed decisions and beware the danger of false economies.”