Inclusion Now 49

Activism in higher education

Rachel O’Brian tells us about the Disabled Students’ Campaign’s work on cuts to Disabled Students Allowance, Fit to Study procedures, Universal Credit and more.

Rachel smiling
Rachel O’Brian

In the past few years, we have seen inclusive education and disabled students’ access to mainstream education at all levels attacked from all angles – from cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) for students in Higher Education, to massive funding cuts to Education Health and Care Plans that shut disabled students out of schools and colleges. The appointment of Toby Young at the start of the year to the Office for Students just added insult to injury after years of cuts and privatisation, with his comments disparaging inclusive education and in favour of “progressive” eugenics.

Unfortunately, Toby Young’s views, whilst more explicit than most, are not unusual. In the Disabled Student’s Campaign, we hear story after story of disabled students forced from their courses because their university or college do not make the adjustments needed for disabled students to complete their courses, or twist the concept of independent living beyond recognition in order to subject students to disabilist Fit to Study procedures. The Disabled Students’ Campaign exists within the National Union of Students in order to extend, defend and promote the rights of disabled students, and to ensure that our post-16 education system is inclusive of all students, at all levels, regardless of a student’s impairments.

This year in the Campaign, we have been working to launch a legal challenge to scrap the DSA £200 surcharge, as this is an unfair charge placed on disabled students to participate in higher education on an equal basis to their non-disabled peers. In practice, it has led to thousands of DSA laptops being left unclaimed, meaning that disabled students are unable to complete their courses with the assistive technology they need to do so. We are still looking for named clients to take this case forward – so if you have been told, in the last three months, that you have to pay the £200, and you have not yet paid, please get in touch!

We have also been doing some work around Universal Credit, which full time students in practice cannot receive, and for part time students will lead to financial hardship as has been already documented – leading to claimants in rent arrears and using food banks. We are also doing a large campaign opposing cuts and privatisation in the NHS, particularly focusing on mental health services, as we believe that all service users should have rights in their treatment – from the right to determine what that treatment looks like and receive it consistently, to the right to confidentiality if they make a complaint. For people in mental distress, receiving good treatment to help them manage their conditions is essential for them to be able to access and stay in education.

Anti-austerity campaigns and political education are the key campaigns for DSC this year – with disabled students’ political education days being planned to take place regionally across the UK. It is essential that disabled students have at least a basic understanding of liberatory theories such as the social model of disability, and know some of the disability rights movements that preceded them and the radical forms of action that they have used. We aim to equip disabled students with the tools and knowledge they need to run anti-austerity campaigns – the ideology behind the cuts which are stopping us from being able to access education, and makes our education systems less inclusive.

Rachel O’Brian, NUS Disabled Students’ Officer