For students starting university this year (2015-16) the restrictions are becoming tighter. Fewer applications will be approved, as well as students in need of assistive technology will be expected to contribute £200 towards the cost.
I can see why they’ve done this. This scheme does cost the government a lot of money, and the £200 is a deterrent to discourage people from applying unless it is really necessary. Although, for the average student, that £200 may not be affordable, particularly if you (like myself) are paying all the rent yourself as well as holding down a part time job and studying. Unlike Maintenance Loans, the DSA is not judged on how much your parents earn; if you come from a disadvantaged background, you may not be able to afford the equipment you need for university, even with help from the government.
Furthermore, the amount it costs to be assessed is astonishing and to make matters worse, there’s a lack of funds available at university in order to get learning difficulties such as Dyslexia diagnosed. An average Dyslexia assessment will put a student back £300 -£400. That is not spare change–that’s enough to pay for my food bill for four months.
At university, these specific difficulties tend to come to light due to the self-study element and lack of direction compared to secondary school; particularly for more able students. Money is often accessible through ‘hardship funds’, but this is only for students who come from families with lower incomes. If you do not fall below this threshold, then pages and pages of forms have to be filled, evidence provided and statements written. To me, it seems a little absurd to expect this of a student with a potential specific learning difficulty which is often associated with slower processing speeds when concerned with words and organisation.
Wouldn’t it be better placed to have government funds available for this purpose, and then funding given through universities for specific equipment needs?
The use of the term ‘Disabled’ in the title of this particular form of funding may also be off putting for students. I do not class myself as Disabled, but I spend a lot of time at the ‘Disability Services’ at university. This word creates stigma against all students who apply for it, whether they be physically disabled or have a disability invisible to the naked eye. The last thing a teenager wants when they are making the transition to university is to be labelled as ‘ different’ straight away. We’re not disabled, we just need a little more support than maybe the average student.
So, back to my original point. Personally, my view is that yes, I should be entitled to this allowance. It is a fantastic resource that is available to students of all backgrounds. Despite this, my view is that the alterations made this year to the DSA policy is limiting to the students who need specialist resources the most. To me, it means that every single student who needs specialist electronic equipment on the DSA should have to pay that £200–my view is that this should be means assessed towards the student’s income as opposed to their parents–just because your parents are earning over the threshold for any additional student grant, doesn’t mean that they are able to pay for necessary extras for independent student living.