BATA is continuing to oppose vigorously the government’s changes to the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA), which will see a charge of £200 introduced for assistive systems from next academic year.
Council members have been briefing MPs and their parliamentary assistants on the changes. Liam Byrne, shadow universities minister, Tim Farron, Lib Dem president and a number of members of the BIS select committee from both the Labour and the Conservative parties have listened to BATA’s views.
We have argued that the £200 charge unfairly penalises disabled students who already face extra costs to participate in higher education. BATA has also highlighted the lack of consultation of students and organisations representing the professionals who support them before the so-called modernisation was introduced.
We have emphasised the importance of the ‘one stop shop’; the idea that disabled students require additional assistance such as warranties to cover damage to hardware, training to help them use assistive software and upgrades to keep them abreast of the latest technology. And that these services are best obtained from a single source.
In April, former Minister for Universities, David Willetts MP, announced a series of ‘modernisation proposals’ to the DSA for academic year 2015/16. The changes would see the responsibility for funding the DSA shift from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to universities.
The new Minister for Universities Greg Clark announced in September that for the academic year 2015/16, the government would delay the changes to the non-medical help support for one year.
The statement also announced that BIS would continue to provide DSA funding to help with the additional cost of a computer and assistive software if needed solely because of the student’s impairment, subject to an initial contribution from the student of the first £200. According to BIS, this is broadly the equivalent of the cost of a basic computer.
At the time of writing new regulations relating to DSA were put before Parliament on October 16. If unchallenged they will come into force in 40 days. MPs have been urged to ‘pray’ against the regulations which could force a debate on the subject and ultimately bring about a rethink. MPs, such as veteran politician Barry Sherman, have raised questions in the house.
BATA and its members are seriously concerned that these changes could jeopardise the ability for students to access vital assistive technology that helps them have a smooth and successful university experience.
Funding for Assistive Technology and related services has already been significantly reduced from nearly £46m in 2011-12 to under £30m in the current year. Government should be looking to support an environment that encourages innovation and improvements in products and services for the DSA, rather than stifle them.
The Assistive Technology sector is currently a major contributor to the economy. BATA’s statistics show that the 21 accredited AT provider companies are all SMEs and generate revenues of around £55m per annum; significantly contributing to UK GDP as well as UK employment levels.
The DSA also provides a free market environment for Assistive Technology companies to operate in and develop. These cuts would significantly reduce the amount of public sector opportunities for SMEs.
Assistive systems of equipment and support crucially contribute towards independent learning – and currently the Assistive Technology Support Providers deliver a one-stop-shop approach for students.
This one-stop-shop approach should not be underestimated, as it prevents them from having to ‘shop around’ for software and assurance of quality accredited suppliers. This is in danger of being dismantled, thereby creating extra levels of concern and hassle for students seeking to be supported by the DSA. It could also delay students from receiving their provision.