Government to cut funding for disabled university students

Jo Johnson says higher education institutions will have to pay for non-medical support staff from next September

The government is to cut its funding for disabled students in higher education, shifting responsibility from the public purse to universities, which from next year will be expected to pick up a greater share of the bill.

The announcement by Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, follows a consultation aimed at “better targeting” disabled students’ allowances (DSAs) – non-repayable grants to cover additional costs that disabled students incur in HE.

Under the current system DSAs fund a range of support, including the purchase of specialist equipment and provision of support workers. From next September, universities will have to pay for non-medical support staff, including note-takers, and readers, and funding for computer equipment and specialist accomodation will be reduced.

The DSAs will continue to cover specialist support such as sighted guides for students who need help getting around campus. However, Johnson made clear it was up to universities to discharge their duty under the 2010 Equality Act, like any other business.

The government wanted to introduce the cuts this year, but delayed to give universities time to prepare. The National Union of Students said, however, that smaller institutions with a higher proportion of disabled students could face heavy additional costs.

In a written statement, Johnson said: “The increasing numbers of disabled students entering HE is to be celebrated, as is the increasing numbers of those declaring their disability. However, it is possible that the continued provision of DSAs may have removed the urgency of some higher education providers to expand provision for all disabled students.”

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