OUSU President Tom Rutland has joined the growing opposition to the government’s proposed cut to the Disabled Students Allowance.
In tweets addressed to Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood on Friday, Rutland called on the Oxford MPs to oppose the move. The measure was announced by Universities Minister David Willetts in April and will take effect in September 2015, affecting upon many of Oxford’s disabled students.
Following Rutland’s tweet, Labour MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith released a statement condemning the proposed cut. Describing the measure as “regressive” and “damaging”, Smith raised concern that, by transferring responsibility for support from the government to the university, the policy could create a “perverse incentive” for universities to admit fewer disabled students.
Rutland later commented: “The Disabled Students Allowance provides a lifeline to the students who receive it. Cutting a fund that improves access to higher education at a time when students are already facing a higher cost of living risks leaving disabled students behind.”
OUSU Disability Officer James Elliot also voiced opposition to the measure, describing the DSA as a “vital lifeline” for many disabled students. Cutting the allowance will, according to Elliot, bring increased drop-out rates and greater inequality in education between disabled and non-disabled people.
At present, a disabled student may receive up to £20,000 per year for non-medical support (such as note takers or library support) and around £5,000 per year for specialist equipment. The DSA supported 53,000 students across the country in 2011–2012 at a cost of £125 million. Research by the National Audit Office has shown that the DSA reduces the proportion of disabled students who drop out of their course and improves educational attainment.
Oxford University Labour Club voiced opposition to the policy, with OULC spokesperson Nikhil Venkatesh stating: “The DSA provides much needed support to many students at Oxford and across the country. It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the coalition government is proposing to cut that support.”
President of Oxford University Conservative Association James Heywood defended the policy, however, arguing that the allowance has not been reformed “in nearly three decades” and is “in need of modernisation”. “These changes are intended to ensure that support is targeted to those who are disadvantaged as a result of their disability. There may well be students who cannot afford a laptop but it is not the job of the disabilities allowance to fund that- there is a separate provision for those on low incomes and the two should not be conflated.”
Heywood went on to describe as “totally misguided” the idea that cutting the DSA would lead to reduced admittance of disabled students into higher education, pointing to the £300 million Opportunities Fund as a measure that provides a financial incentive for universities to admit disabled students.