University of Edinburgh
 

Deaf Students in Scottish Higher Education

Chapter Five: Funding Issues

Eligibility for DSA

In its submission to the Funding for Learners Review, the Scottish Disability Team draws attention to the categories of student who are currently ineligible for funding under the Disability Students Allowance scheme operated through the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS). These include:

  • students on access courses;
  • students studying less than 50% of a full time course or studying on part-time courses;
  • postgraduate students who are not studying on a course which attracts funding from SAAS or are studying part-time on courses which do attract SAAS funding;
  • EU and international students.

Thus, in order to receive the same level of access and support services as those in receipt of DSA, individual higher education institutions have to fund the relevant services from their own existing resources. In their submissions, the Disability Team and Skill Scotland both point out the iniquity of this situation. They argue that, as the Cubie Commission had already recommended, DSA should be available to all higher education students, regardless of the nature and level of the course.

In terms of postgraduate students on courses which do not attract SAAS funding, Skill Scotland highlights the inequity — and wastefulness — of the fact that, in England and Wales, DSA eligibility is extended to all postgraduate students, both full and part-time: “this lack of postgraduate DSA in Scotland is limiting the development of talent” (Skill Scotland 2003, p2).

This is certainly true in the case of deaf students; such students have to rely either on their own personal finances or the inventiveness and good will of Disability Advisors to attempt to remedy the situation.

At the time of writing there is room for optimism that the Funding for Learners Review will address at least some of these issues.

A further challenge is the extent to which current DDA/SENDA legislation is applicable to the institution or the student. If institutions are required to treat all students equally and not to place any student at a disadvantage because of his or her disability, then the legislation must also apply to overseas students, even though they may not be eligible for DSA. If Scottish students are unclear about their rights and feel the system does not facilitate understanding, then the situation is likely to be even more difficult for non-Scottish and non-UK students. Indeed, one issue which occurs again and again in the interviews is the need for clear and accessible information.

The Disabled Students Premium funding system is the one way in which relevant central funding is provided directly to institutions, rather than to qualifying individuals. However, there are limitations to its potential for meeting the access needs of students not in receipt of DSA, as will now be described.

Premium in Support of Disabled Students

SHEFC (now SFHEFC) introduced the Premium in Support of Disabled Students funding in 2001. It provides a means for giving direct financial assistance to institutions, in order to assist them with any additional costs which they incur when providing services to disabled students. Although this is undoubtedly a positive move, there are two problematic issues: firstly, it is solely calculated on the basis of numbers of students in receipt of DSA; secondly, there appears to inconsistency in how institutions deal with the funding internally.

The fact that Premium funding is based on numbers of students who get DSA means that all the students who fall into the ineligible groups listed above are not included in the calculation of Premium grants.

Therefore, institutions not only have to find the shortfall from existing resources, but have a disincentive from taking institutional responsibility for the wider group.

Skill Scotland draws attention to this anomaly:

"Skill Scotland is greatly concerned that DSA is used as the criteria for Disability Premium funding in HE. DSA is for individual needs, and attaching Disability Premium funding to this means that institutions are dissuaded from making support for all disabled students part of their overall provision. Consideration of robust, appropriate methods of distributing Disability Premium funding which encourage the further inclusion of disabled students is needed."
(Skill Scotland, 2003, p3)

One might expect that Disability Advisors would be involved in decisions about how the Premium funding is spent in their institution. However, out of nine Disability Advisors who gave information about this issue, there were wide variations in what they knew about the funding, and what control their respective Disability Offices had over its use:

  • Only two stated that the funding was directly devolved to them;
  • Two understood that the funding was used for estates and buildings, but weren’t given information about how much was received. In only one of these two cases, the Disability Office received the remainder left from the estates and buildings work;
  • Two knew the Premium amount, but said that none if it was made available to the Disability Office;
  • One knew the Premium amount, but no information about how it was spent;
  • One neither knew the figure, nor whether any of it was devolved.

It would seem that a consistent policy of devolving decision-making power to the Disability Offices would be beneficial, where the need for buildings/estates expenditure can be considered alongside other priorities. It is understood that SHEFC (now SFHEFC) are aware of these Premium funding issues and that they will be addressed in a forthcoming review.

Students in receipt of DSA

Some of those students in receipt of DSA who were interviewed or completed questionnaires did find that DSA enabled them to have adequate access to HE and almost all would agree that it contributes significantly to their access.

However, DSA funding is not available for support during vacations, other than for exceptional circumstances such as resits. This can be particularly important for deaf students who need to have access to preparatory materials or to prepare for the specific linguistic demands of courses.

Chapters Ten and Twelve illustrate that the linguistic experience of DSA varies, and full access may depend on the costs of the provision required. For example, in her questionnaire response, a postgraduate student on the one hand acknowledges the huge improvements gained by the introduction of DSA:

"The level of support (communication) is much better now than when I started in 1986 at ****. I struggled through four years without any communication support (those were the days with no DSA)."

On the other hand, she follows this by describing her disappointment at the low standards of the current access services provided and the prohibitive costs involved. Her concluding comment is that “access to education should be for all. Therefore we, Deaf students, have a right to have a suitable level of qualified support at realistic cost”.

Another student on a modular course described how the costs for one week of study could be as much as £2000, allowing for two interpreters and assuming low travel costs. The use of speech to text operators would more than double that figure. The costs for undergraduate students may be high because of the way lectures and seminars are spread throughout a day: there is a minimum two-hour charge for most services. Thus it may be cheaper to, for example, hire an interpreter for a day than pay for smaller amounts of time. This situation can be improved somewhat if interpreters are employed on a full-time basis by the HEI: however, the shortage of interpreters has meant that this is rarely possible.

The City Lit, in London, provides a model where DSA funding is pooled by students to enable a centralised workforce and resource base, with advantages of both cost-effectiveness and a wide range of skilled staff. There would, of course, be geographical limitations to the application of this model to Scottish institutions outwith the central belt.

A final and vitally important issue is that, as noted in chapters three, eight and twelve, some students have an issue with English language competency, resulting from its late acquisition, and thus there is a need to fund subject-specific linguistic support for those students.

There are further issues relating to the process of DSA assessment, and these are dealt with in the next chapter.

Key points

  • A number of categories of disabled students have access needs, but are ineligible for DSA. This means that, in order to provide access services for them, HEIs must find the necessary funding from existing resources.
  • There is an apparent lack of clear information for ineligible students on the rationale for eligibility criteria.
  • The Premium in Support of Disabled Students grants to HEIs is calculated on the basis of numbers of students in receipt of DSA. This means that the ineligible categories of students referred to above are discounted, as well as students who do not disclose their disability.
  • There is inconsistency in the way that HEIs involve their Disability Offices in decisions about how the Premium funding is used.
  • DSA provides an invaluable resource to eligible students, but lack of funding for vacation periods, high costs and shortage of suitably qualified staff limit its potential.
  • Students for whom English is an additional or late acquired language have a need for subject-specific linguistic support.

Recommendations

5.1 SAAS should widen the eligibility for DSA to include all those groups who have access requirements, but are presently excluded.

5.2 Information on eligibility for DSA should be provided in clear, accessible formats, and made available to all applicants.

5.3 SHEFC (now SFHEFC) should introduce a system of calculating Disabled Students Premium which takes into account the larger group of students who would benefit from specific access arrangements.

5.4 HEIs should be encouraged to devolve decisions on Disabled Students Premium spending priorities to their Disability Offices

5.5 DSA funding should be made available for support during vacations.

5.6 Instead of the current DSA ceiling, the allowance should cover the costs appropriate to the provision of access to individual deaf students.

5.7 The recently-established working group ‘Working towards Best Practice in Linguistic Access for Deaf Students’ should be encouraged to consider creative solutions to the pan-Scottish funding challenges involved, pending the establishment of the proposed Centre for Linguistic Access.

5.8 DSA funding should specifically be made available for subject specific linguistic support for students whose English is an additional or late acquired language.