Monday 10-08-2015 - 15:44
More than a year since David Willetts announced his “reforms” to DSA, the government is finally consulting students, the public, and the education and disabled people’s sectors on their proposals. Now the chance is here, it is vital that disabled students, prospective students, and SUs take the opportunity to tell the government what they think.
It is deeply frustrating that it took the government this long (and the threat of legal action) to finally do the right thing and ask those most closely affected what they think.
But now that we have this consultation we must act.
I’m currently working on the response from the NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign. We already have a basic framework because for the last year I’ve been arguing that any changes to the DSA must meet five principles:
- The support must be high-quality
- The support must be timely
- The support must be tailored to the individual student
- The support must be consistent across faculties, campuses and institutions
- The student must have access to swift and fair forms of appeal and redress
The government has yet to convince me that their proposals meet these criteria. For example, the fact that different institutions have very varying proportions of disabled students means some will have far higher costs than others. This threatens the consistency of support: a student at a rich institution with fewer disabled students may get better support than one at a small and specialist arts institution with far higher numbers. This is unacceptable.
However, I don’t believe the DSA system in place before these changes necessarily met the principles either. For a start, there has been no mechanism to assess the quality of most non-medical help and I can say from personal experience that the quality can be very poor.
Encouraging institutions to be more innovative and inclusive is no bad thing. But any changes must improve the experience for disabled students and not simply mean the student ends up complaining to their university and not Student Finance England when their support is inadequate.
As well as this DSA has never been available to International students, which is outrageous.
Even so, we have to engage with this consultation and make the arguments. If we are to make a difference we have to find ways of making those principles come to life. What would an ideal system look like, and who would deliver it? How can we ensure disabled students get the support they need, when they need it? What must be done to stop disabled students being left without advice and guidance when things go wrong?
If you have thoughts you want to share with me then please get in touch.
And be assured NUS will continue to campaign on the DSA in other ways, building on the amazing and inspiring work of activists and SUs over the last year.
The consultation is open until 24 September. I strongly encourage disabled students and their representatives to respond. You can use this briefing to understand the proposed changes and concerns.
If we all take some time to share our perspective with the decision-makers, we can amplify our voice, and they can never claim they thought cuts wouldn’t hurt us.