Stakeholders meet to find a way forward on DSA delivery

24 July 2020

Organisations involved in delivering supplies and services to disabled students are meeting with the Department for Education (DfE) and the Student Loans Company (SLC) to discuss next steps after the introduction of a streamlined delivery system was abandoned.

An 18-month effort to speed up the processes involved in supplying students with equipment and training under Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) and reduce the number of touch points for them was ended at the end of June without explanation.

“SLC (and DfE) regret any inconvenience caused to those suppliers who have already expressed an interest in responding to this competition and hope that they will take a similar interest in the new tender arrangements, particularly in light of the intended improvements envisaged for the sector via the new tender exercise,” said SLC’s Contract Manager Susan Ayre.

BATA Chair Rick Bell commented: “We ask that there is immediate clarification of how the tender process is to be restructured, and most importantly, that a clear timetable is established to provide stability for the sector and ensure disabled students are not further disadvantaged by this process,”

His remarks were made in a letter jointly signed by BATA, the National Association of Disability Practitioners and the Association of Non-Medical Help Providers in which the organisations requested a meeting.

The Government had intended to issue contracts to a smaller number of suppliers to provide students with both equipment and AT training under DSA. BATA welcomed efforts by DfE and SLC to simplify the process of providing disabled students with assistive technology.

.But it was concerned about aspects of the proposed arrangements because they had been devised with little or no consultation with students or other stakeholders. Indeed, consultation had been explicitly ruled out on the grounds that the new model was not a change in government policy.

Support for disabled students is a complex business and one which must have the individual student at its centre. The proposals, with their emphasis on fewer suppliers, seemed to limit the choice open to students.

In addition, the Government said it was committed to supporting small, innovative UK companies. Indeed, the DSA system is the envy of many countries in the way it encourages disabled students into higher education at the same time as fostering the development of small, specialist suppliers.

The move to a small number of suppliers seemed to run counter to policies designed to encourage companies to build up very specialised AT knowledge.