Universities Minister Dr Greg Clark, has told BATA that he is convinced of the value of the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) grant scheme and that he is not looking to cut the number of students that receive it.
At a meeting this week with Dr Clark, BATA representatives heard him speak of the importance of the role that AT Solution Providers played, of the value of course-long support for AT systems and of the one-stop-shop.
But he said that the Government is committed to a more traditional ‘bulk procurement’ for DSA equipment than that currently used, adding that he wanted this procurement to be accessible to small businesses.
He asked BATA to discuss with his civil servants how a bulk purchase arrangement could work with small businesses taking a full part, and representatives spent some time doing so.
Following this discussion, Geoff Munn, from the Student Funding Policy team BIS, has written the following:
Next Steps I will be sending an update note to the Minister at the end of next week. In the note I’ll include a brief read-out of our meeting today, and feedback the views and suggestions you’ve gathered from your members over the next week. I’d be grateful if you could let me have these as a single submission before 12 March.
I promised to send you some links on tendering, see below:
I also promised to share our thoughts on the potential bulk buying options. For the reasons we discussed today we propose dividing our current DSA purchases into potentially six lots, which broadly speaking divide current arrangements into goods and services.
Bulk-buying could potentially look like this:
Lot 1: Computers including operating system and office suite software;
Lot 2: Assistive software;
Lot 3: Other items of equipment and assistive technology.
Lot 4: A one-stop-shop service for DSA students. A procurement to recruit suppliers to process student’s orders, unbox, build/configure and deliver students computers, equipment and software bought through Lots 1, 2 and 3.
Lot 5: An aftersales support service, insurance, warranties; and
Lot 6: Training for assistive software and equipment.
I appreciate that the terms I’ve used may not match your own, if this is the case I apologise in advance; I’ve concentrated on describing the requirements as best I can, hopefully it’s clear. I appreciate this is a high-level summary, but it helps give a flavour of what we would like to do - part of the procurement process is to firm up the details.
As we discussed the proposal is to set up frameworks to buy the various good and services DSA buys. Alongside doing this Cabinet Office want us to also consider existing frameworks and other options, for example CHEST agreements. We will obviously do this, but whatever approach we adopt the outcome must meet the needs of students.
Thank you for your assistance.
From the discussion and the above we have derived the following process diagram:
From the discussion we interpret the proposal in the following way:
- Lots 1, 2 and 3 are where BIS will procure products for the DSA, likely direct from wholesalers such as those who are already providing these elements to government and education on a large scale through other frameworks. This differs this from our current model of ATSPs procuring these independently. BIS remarked that they thought that there was unlikely to be significant savings on computer costs as the DSA is already supplying them at similar or even lower prices than other relevant frameworks.
- This is a framework proposal, rather than a single, winner-takes-all, tender. I.e. there will be more than one approved provider for each lot.
- NAC will make recommendations for the products and services a Student will require, as at present. The provider of Lot 4 will source these products from agreed Framework Suppliers.
- BIS expect there to be less need for familiarisation as there will be no need to connect the computer up with printer/scanner etc. Delivery may usefully be combined with the first AT training session on the same day, if convenient for the supplier(s).
- An important element of the proposal is to enhance student choice. For example, the student could choose the supplier (presumably with help from the assessor, web information etc). However, to do this, the student will not have access to pricing information from the supplier.
- It was suggested that an ATSP may want to bid for Lots 4, 5 & 6 and provide their current range of services within these. Something similar to the current QAF would be used to stipulate service and quality.
- Lot 5 – A version of lot 5 is currently being procured as a single tender, rather than a framework (estimated publication of Tender - April 2015) for students who have PCs that they did not purchase PC via an ATSPs or if an ATSP ceases to operate and does not honour the course long support liability. This will also be part of the 16/17+ Procurement where other providers will be invited to Tender (beyond the successful bidder of the April-15 Tender).
- An ATSP may wish to only bid for one, two or all three of the Lots 4, 5 and 6
- BIS appear to believe that this will help to reduce the cost of software, and costs overall. They acknowledge the cost of some elements of DSA may increase, as under current arrangements suppliers may not be pricing everything they provide appropriately.
- BIS believe a procurement can usefully rationalise the range of DSA software (for example by potential suppliers, when tendering, considering the range of different releases/versions of a software product they offer). They are particularly concerned about the cost and effects of items where there is less choice for students, and are keen to see greater competition and choice.
- However, there is no intention to reduce the choice to, say, a single literacy support package.
- All elements are very much up for discussion.
This paper is our interpretation of the meeting and proposal. In the interests of making the consultation deadline it has not been prior-approved by BIS but will be copied back to BIS for their information.
We hope to release shortly, as well, our initial thoughts, questions and comments on the proposal.
Mark McCusker (Texthelp)
Ian Litterick (iansyst)
Jonathan Rouse (Microlink PC)
Chris Quickfall (Invate)