OVER the past few weeks, students have been preparing to go off to university. There will be some who have disabilities and naturally it is important that they should be able to enjoy the same access to higher education as any other student.

The Minister for Universities said recently that there should be “no cap on their aspiration” and they should be able to have the right support to do so. Some of those prospective students will be looking now at the choice of universities and courses, deciding where they wish to apply.

Earlier this year, the Minister announced proposed reforms to the Disabled Students’ Allowance. After listening carefully to representations, the Minister made a statement at the beginning of this academic year.

The Disabled Students’ Allowances are non-repayable grants to help with the additional costs incurred by disabled students while they are in higher education. The allowances cover help for such items as buying computers and specialised equipment, travel costs and they can also include the provision of support workers.

In the year 2011/12, these allowances (funded from the Higher Education Budget) provided support of more than £144 million to 61,000 students. These allowances will continue to be available to students with disabilities. From 2015/16, the funding will cover computers and assistive software if this is needed solely because of the student’s disability. This will be subject to the student contributing the first £200 of the cost, which is broadly equivalent to the cost of a basic computer. In future academic years there could be a bulk purchasing scheme available to keep costs down. Although items like printers and consumables will not be provided automatically, there will be alternative provision such as services organised by the university.

There have been concerns that some universities could not meet all the requirements to make reasonable provision to accommodate students with disabilities, since they need to invest in additional support for their students. As a result, higher education institutions have until the beginning of the 2016/17 academic year to work on their plans to fulfil their statutory duties, particularly those covering non-medical help. The universities will also be looking at ways to improve the processes whereby disabled students can appeal against a higher education institution’s decision that an adjustment would not be reasonable.