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    ANP Response to Call for Evidence: ‘Improving non-medical help for Disabled students in higher education

    In April the Department for Education published an online Call for Evidence survey called ‘Improving non-medical help for Disabled students in higher education.’

    ‘Non-medical help’ means human support for Disabled students which enables access. It includes Notetakers (Manual and Electronic), as well as British Sign Language Interpreters, Personal Assistants, Sighted Guides, Academic Mental Health Mentors, Study Skills Tutors (Specific Learning Difficulties) and many other roles.

    The survey includes many misleading statements about the way Non-Medical Help is delivered. It proposes to abolish Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) funding for all Non-Medical Helpers. It implies that this would empower universities to employ support workers directly.

    In fact, the two things are not connected. Since a large number of Non-Medical Helpers were removed from DSA funding in 2016, universities have continued the use of large, non-specialist agencies that treat workers poorly. In fact, the use of such agencies has increased, and pay and conditions for Notetakers have diminished. There has also been an increase in the use of unreliable AI technology in place of human support.

    Some Notetakers have left the Higher Education sector, finding it not feasible to earn a living. It is likely that removing all Notetakers from DSA funding would increase this trend.

    This would be a huge loss to students, who would be less likely to access skilled, qualified Notetakers. Research has shown that the 2016 cuts increased inequalities.

    This is not surprising, as there is no regulatory mechanism to ensure that universities fulfil their responsibilities under the Equality Act. This is why DSA is still needed.

    What is needed to improve the sector is not more cuts but rather:

    • more funding: for good quality training courses and to pay workers adequately (whether through universities or specialist agencies)
    • more oversight: to ensure that providers treat workers well and students get the services they need.

    It was difficult to respond to such a badly written survey. However, you can read our full response here, which we submitted to the Department for Education before the 3rd July deadline.

    Also read this statement on the Call for Evidence from a coalition of other professional organisations in the sector. This includes the list of questions.

    The following articles also provide some context:

    Wonk HE: Now DfE Proposes to Scrap a Huge Part of Disabled Students Allowance

    Disability News Service: Reforms to disabled students’ support ‘will confuse and dilute our rights’

    Twitter thread about notetaking and DSA cuts

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