On 7th April 2014 the UK Government’s Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) announced changes to Disabled Students Allowance. This allowance – also known as the DSA – supports students with disability, chronic illness and mental health diagnoses to achieve parity of access to teaching and learning in higher education comparable with their non-disabled peers.
The National Association of Disability Practitioners has outlined how cuts would undermine progress in widening access to higher education for disabled students, and are likely to put new students off applying to university at all.
In a recent article for the Guardian, @slewth says:
“Without this funding – a vital support mechanism in recruitment – higher education will no longer be viable for some. For others, cuts will mean persevering without necessary support, leading to higher drop-out rates, dissatisfaction and lower educational attainment.
Research shows that students who receive DSAs perform at the same level as non-disabled students. Cuts threaten to destroy this hard-won equality.”
Front-line disability support staff have spoken out against the changes, collated press releases, organised petitions, and are calling for disabled students to provide survey evidence of how DSA supports them.
Budgets have already been cut. Money is already tight. And even the most effective disability support office in a university will tell you that their job is not always an easy one in the face of a broad and pervasive climate of academic dis/ableism.
This Friday 6th June, the NUS has organised a #DSADay and is asking for as many people as possible to lobby their local MPs.
“It is incredibly important that we outline how dangerous and damaging these cuts can be. At a time when the government has already made savage cuts to disabled people’s benefits and cuts to local government funding, we cannot let this continue.
With research showing 59 per cent of disabled respondents worried about not having enough money to meet basic living expenses, we need to stand up and say no to any further swingeing cuts. If you agree, get behind the campaign and tell your MP what you think by joining the #DontCutMeOut DSA Constituency lobby day on Friday 6 June.”
Disabled students, who get early lessons in self-management, self-advocacy and the need to persist in adverse conditions created by the world and their bodies, are too often among the most diligent, resourceful, and resilient students found in our undergraduate cohorts.
They are already bucking a trend: disabled people are half as likely to have a university-level education than non-disabled peers.
In a context where disabled people are three times more likely than non-disabled people not to have any qualifications, it matters that we – students, scholars, activists, parents, teachers, politicians and everyone, basically – do what we can to ensure that higher education remains an option open to people whose options are too often constrained already by what’s possible, given a body or brain exceptionalized by a world poorly built to include disabled people both literally and ideologically.
Equipment like laptops, dictaphones, ergonomic chairs, and non-medical support offered by library helpers and note-takers facilitates basic access to what many non-disabled students take for granted. For many disabled & chronically ill students such support is absolutely crucial to being able to study at all in what are often already challenging circumstances.
DSA supports students whether they have a lifelong condition or have been through the emotionally-taxing process of becoming chronically ill or disabled – some not receiving the diagnosis needed to even secure DSA in the first place for months, even years – after enrolment on a university course.
DSA is central to the basic academic functioning of all levels of disabled and chronically ill student: undergraduates, taught postgraduates, and research postgraduates including PhDs are affected.
We must press the point that DSA cuts do not just apply to incoming undergraduates, but to our those among our best graduates who – just like any other talented student – deserve encouragement to continue to postgraduate study, to PhD, to lectureship, should they wish to do so. Such encouragements will be empty without the resources provided by the existing version of the DSA.
These cuts affect our students and those who teach our students. It is usual for PhDs – including disabled and chronically ill PhDs – to teach undergraduate classes. Some act as mentors to assist less experienced students in dealing with the demands of misunderstood illness, an institutional world poorly suited to supporting disabled folk, and the basic requirements of doing a degree, what we sometimes call the “workload in triplicate”.
The removal of this support will make disabled students less likely to become disabled teachers in higher education. The number of full-time PhD students with declared disabilities has risen astonishingly with a 316% increase between 1997-2009. Even just the period from 2007-2009 witnessed an increase of 36%. Declared disabled students still make up less than ~5% of full-time PhDs.
Disabled participation in PhDs has clearly increased, though the proportion of disabled to non-disabled PhDs is still disappointing especially since 16% of working age adults are disabled.
So we repeat. The cuts to DSA are deeply problematic. They are all of our problem, since it is already all of our problem that the DSA provides a single ballast of genuinely productive support in a climate that can otherwise be harsh and unsupportive for many disabled students.
Lobby your MP on 6th June to show them that it’s their problem too.
How to get involved
- Write to your local MP – tell them that you’re concerned about the changes and to ask them to clarify their position. You could even ask them to put a question to the Minister of State for Universities & Science, David Willetts, in which case they are required to do so and write to you to confirm this. You can also ask them to support the Early Day Motion 48 on changes to DSA.
- Sign the online petition.
- Complete this survey to explain how DSA supported your studies.
- Join the NUS’s Twitter Thunderclap.
- Tweet your concerns via hashtags #DontCutMeOut, #DSADay, #DegreesofDiscrimination.
- Tell your stories about why you want to protect the DSA on twitter via community hashtags #ProtectDSA and #WithoutDSAICouldntStudy
- Learn more about the NUS’s campaign on their website
- Read the NUS’s DSA How to Lobby Guide for ideas and strategies
- ‘Vital Disabled Student support to be cut – Save DSA!’ (@spoonydoc)
- ‘BIS announces plans to make cuts to Disabled Students Allowance’ (NUS)
- ‘Disabled Students Allowance cut – #DegreesOfDiscrimination’ (NUS)
- DSA Information for ‘Write to them’ message to your local MP (Amano Technologies, @AmanoTech)
- Storify: Students explain why #WithoutDSAICouldntStudy
Image: ‘Student protest march outside Houses of Parliament’ via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.