Austerity & Brexit: The Impact on Disabled Students

28th July 2016 by Catia Neves

In our previous post, we explored how leaving the EU might affect Disabled people. Now, let’s focus on the specific challenges faced by Disabled students and graduates. With ongoing austerity measures, Brexit, cabinet changes, and department mergers, what does this mean for our Disabled students?

Brexit and University Funding

The decision to leave the European Union will strain UK universities already struggling with government-imposed budget cuts. EU funding has been essential. It has provided substantial support through research grants and general budget top-ups. Since 2009, the UK was awarded approximately 15.5% of available higher education funds despite contributing just 11% to the EU budget.

Also, we received 25% of available funds (roughly €1.1bn) through EU academic mobility and foreign exchange programmes. This extra funding has supported various university initiatives, including research.

The loss of EU funding raises concerns about universities’ financial stability. It’s unclear if other funding sources will fill these gaps or if internal budgets will be cut. Therefore affecting services and support available to Disabled students. As Megan Dunn (President of the NUS) wrote in her letter to the Prime Minister,

“Students will be concerned that any removal of this funding could have implications for the support they receive, and this concern will of course be greatest for the most vulnerable students.”

This may reduce opportunities for UK students, including Disabled students, who pay less compared to their international peers.

The average tuition fees for international students (2015–16) are as follows, as opposed to the average £9,000 that home students pay:

  • Humanities and Social Sciences: £10,000–£17,000
  • Sciences and Engineering: £10,000–£20,800
  • Clinical subjects: £20,000–£30,000

There is a current push for universities to take a bigger responsibility in ensuring their institutions are inclusive and accessible and offer the correct reasonable adjustments to Disabled students. This change means universities need to invest to meet the Equality Act requirements and keep essential support services for disabled students running smoothly. Especially as reliance on external funding sources like the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is no longer guaranteed.

This raises the question:

Is it in a university’s interest to take on students that ‘cost’ them more money, when they can secure higher fees elsewhere?

Whilst we value the amazing diversity international students bring to UK higher education, could this nudge the admissions process to view all students as consumers which represent £££?

Brexit and Erasmus Programme

The Erasmus exchange programme, allowing European students to study abroad, faces uncertainty post-Brexit.

The UK director of Erasmus, Ruth Sinclair-Jones, said,

” We face a sad moment of uncertainty after 30 years of this enrichment of so many lives.”

While Disabled students represent a smaller proportion of participants, programmes like ExchangeAbility have been pivotal in promoting mobility and inclusivity. Disabled students need more opportunities to study abroad not less. No longer having access to Erasmus will reduce opportunities for all students, impacting their future employment.

Economic Impact of Brexit

The effects of Brexit on the economy are clear now, and they’re impacting social mobility and access to important services. In the past, economic downturns have made inequalities worse. We expect Disabled individuals to feel this more, with less money available, fewer essential services, and fewer job chances.

Recent economic indicators suggest another recession may be looming, further jeopardising the financial stability of Disabled individuals, including students pursuing higher education.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has suggested a potential shift towards increased investment in infrastructure and public services, which could reduce some austerity measures.However, there are still concerns over past decisions impacting Disabled communities. For instance, the Conservatives’ cuts to disability benefits.

NHS and Healthcare Services

Access to healthcare services provided by the NHS is critical for many Disabled students attending university. Brexit-related staff shortages within the NHS will strain healthcare provision. This will potentially lead to longer waiting times and reduced service availability. This will significantly impact Disabled students relying on NHS support to manage their health needs while pursuing higher education.

Long waiting times for counselling and other mental health services are already impacting students. Will this only get worse post-Brexit?

Efforts to reform the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) through the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) aim to regulate support services more effectively. There are already concerns about the impact of these reforms on the availability of support workers. For instance, mental health mentors play a crucial role in supporting Disabled students.

Changes to Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA)

Significant changes to the DSA since 2014 have aimed to streamline and modernise support services for Disabled students. Changes like making students pay for necessary items such as laptops have been criticised because they affect students from lower-income backgrounds. Plus, we’re already worried about the change from the government being responsible for supporting students to universities.

Explore our Disabled Students’ Allowance Find Your Way guide to learn more about support available to Disabled Students.

Higher Education Bill and Rising Fees

The Higher Education Bill introduced under Theresa May’s government proposes significant changes to the higher education landscape. Central to these changes is the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which links university funding to teaching quality assessments. Critics argue that this framework, while aimed at improving teaching standards, may inadvertently exacerbate inequalities by allowing universities to raise fees based on perceived teaching excellence.

Proponents of the Bill argue that incentivising universities to enhance teaching quality will benefit all students. Including those from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, concerns remain about the financial burden on Disabled students. Who already face higher levels of debt post-graduation compared to their non-disabled peers.

Looking Ahead

Despite the challenges posed by Brexit and ongoing policy changes, efforts to promote inclusivity and accessibility in higher education continue. We’re hopeful that the government’s plans aimed at widening participation show a commitment to removing barriers. However, the impact of recent austerity measures and policy shifts remains a pressing concern for Disabled students.

As we navigate these uncertain times, it is essential for students, universities, and policymakers to collaborate in ensuring that higher education remains accessible and supportive for all individuals. Regardless of disability status. Engaging with MPs, university Disability Support Services, and Student Unions can influence policy decisions and shape the future of education.

While Brexit is worrying for Disabled students in higher education we need continued engagement with policy and support services. This will help us reduce adverse impacts and foster a more inclusive educational environment.

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