Changes to the Disability Student Allowance and the implications for Goldsmiths

Foreword from Professor Elisabeth Hill
ProWarden Learning, Teaching, Enhancement

The Government announced a number of changes to the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) in 2014, the most far-reaching of which come into effect this year. These will impact  on disabled students entering higher education this autumn and there are clear implications for the level of student support that Goldsmiths must now offer.

This will mean extra responsibilities for staff and Goldsmiths has established a working party to identify what these will be and the support required by staff to carry them out.

The emphasis of the Government changes is to reduce reliance on DSA and place a much greater responsibility on higher education institutions to meet the needs of their students. Academic staff will need to teach in more accessible ways and libraries will need to widen availability of accessible texts.

In order for us to do this, all staff and teaching staff in particular will need to have a clear understanding of their disabled student’s needs and have strategies in place to meet those needs.

Among the changes, DSA will no longer fund practical support assistants, library support assistants, or help with note taking or transcription. Universities are also expected to provide full access to reading materials and online resources by providing access to alternative formats if required.

In short we need to make all aspects of university provision accessible and inclusive. We cannot expect DSA support to fill in the gaps in our accessibility.

Goldsmiths has set up a working party to identify and remedy shortfalls in our current provision. This group will also identify the resources and support needed by staff to fulfil their obligations. More details of this will follow. As the working party does this they may contact you or your staff and any help you can give them will be much appreciated. From September, Goldsmiths will be legally obliged to comply with these changes so it is essential that we are all fully prepared in time for the new academic year.

Backdrop to the changed Disability Support Allowance by Barry Hayward, Inclusion & Learning Support Manager

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) changes were announced in 2014 and a number of changes were introduced in 2015. The most far reaching changes were deferred to 2016 however, and so from September, universities are now looking at the potential impact on disabled students entering higher education and the implications for student support.

In my view these changes represent a major step change in disabled students’ provision. The key emphasis is to reduce the reliance on Disabled Students Allowances and to place a much greater responsibility on higher education institutions to meet the needs of disabled students.

There is also a greater emphasis on independence. Whilst DSA can be seen as empowering students, it can also be seen as creating dependence in certain circumstances. An example would be a DSA support worker scanning printed materials into an accessible format for a visually impaired student. An independent student should be able to access accessible materials independently.  I use this example to highlight the point that some universities are seeking to address this type of change by employing their own support workers or by expecting Library staff to do more scanning.  My view is that we need to find ways to meet disabled students needs through accessibility first, and support second.


In many ways disabled students were pretty much invisible on the policy landscape prior to 1995.  Despite the disability movement being in existence from the 1960s, disabled people were not included when discrimination legislation began to be enacted in relation to race and gender in the 1970s  (in the 1980s, when I went to university there was no DSA, no disability support services, no legal protection – this wasn’t extended to education until 2002. We were entitled to a full grant though).  However, that doesn’t mean people were not campaigning for change. The social model of disability emerged from the movement (mostly amongst UK-based activists). This important new perspective gave the movement a unifying message that engaged disabled people from different experiences. It now forms the key principle underlying disability politics today. It was a slow process, but gradually the arguments began to be taken on board in Parliament

In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced at which time only 3.5% of students entering Higher Education disclosed a disability on application (by 2012 nearly 10% of students disclosed, however most of the increase is amongst those with dyslexia and those with mental health conditions).  Those with physical impairments / sensory impairments are still under-represented – students with visual impairments make up around 1% of all those who disclose a disability. This has remained virtually unchanged over this time period.  DSA was first introduced in 1990, but it was very limited and was means-tested.  In the subsequent Dearing Report (1997),  no mention was made of disabled students, until the charity SKILL lobbied.  Reforms followed in 1998, when the DSA became much like it is today.


The Equality Act 2010 (previously Disability Discrimination Act) says: Discrimination is unlawful.  Institutions are expected to make adjustments to premises and procedures in
anticipation of disadvantage that could be caused to disabled people. It is not a
defence to claim no one is affected because no current students have a particular

What this means is universities need to adopt inclusive practices. Where this fails to address the needs of disabled students we should make reasonable adjustments. Only where these approaches fail to address the challenges faced by the student, should we look to DSA for additional support.


Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) changes 2016  University obligations  –  some examples

Pre-2016 2016 onwards
Disabled Students Allowance supported student Inclusive University
Digital recorder provided to record lectures, or provision of Note-taker human support Lecturers teach, taking account of:

  • SpLDs (Specific Learning Disorders),
  • visual impairments
  • hearing loss

supporting information provided in accessible format.

Library Support worker employed to assist student find texts, convert to accessible formats etc.
  • Academic departments identify accessible reading lists and provide all information in electronic and large print formats.
  • Library staff source accessible formats when text-only version are held.
Student is provided with equipment / software / training to meet access to learning needs The university ensures compatibility of facilities, technology and people skills.