Our guest blogger this week is Daniel from young people’s advisory group FLARE
Whilst it is great news that Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans are extended to the age of 25, the reality is that students who attend university do not have an EHC plan.
This has led to a situation where many disabled undergraduates are at a financial and support disadvantage, with many now having to self-fund specialist support staff.
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), the grant provided by the government to support disabled young people to go to university, is non-statutory and not compulsory so the provision available across universities differs. Some are excellent whilst others are non-existent and it is up to the student to address this deficit in support.
Despite there being little gap between disabled and non-disabled students in terms of the degrees obtained, ongoing cuts to DSA mean that the gap is widening. DSA does not fully cover funding for support staff and carers. For example, a BSL interpreter can cost in excess of over £20,000 a year. How can students cover these costs when access to university is already pricey?
At school, I have one to one communication support (for my deafness) sound treated rooms, use of a radio aid and weekly tutorials and support with my social interactions. DSA cannot fund all this!
Speaking as a disabled secondary school pupil who is eager to go to university, I believe that university is the best way to mature students and make them more independent.
However, these benefits can only be taken advantage of if the support is also there for them to fully engage and immerse themselves in university life and studies. University is not just about academic achievement but also social achievement and integration.
If a young person’s support needs are not met in the classroom at uni, spending extra time catching up on studies can accrue hidden costs such as reduced opportunities to socialise with new friends or to have a part time job to supplement the shortfall in DSA. This shortfall means that many disabled students will be unaware that they are falling behind, whilst others may not know what support package could be best for them in a new environment such as university.
It can be difficult to know where to access other support when you are a disabled student.
DSA is not evaluated or updated as people go through university as they experience new challenges leaving a protective school system. Additionally, DSA is just financial support, whereas EHC plans will identify a young person in crisis or monitor them and take action if required.
Simply, DSA is inadequate to support for the disabled undergraduates of today. This is not fair for those who already have to work so hard to get to the start line. I am not saying that an EHC plan is perfect as it has its weaknesses, but extending its benefits via a more robust process to university would be a remarkable improvement.
Let’s enable students to access their aspirations and dream jobs and soar above the cliff tops.