Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) for Masters Study
Written by Mark Bennett
Are you worried about the impact of a disability, learning difficulty or chronic illness on your postgraduate course? You may be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) during your Masters degree. This funding can help pay for any additional costs you may have to bear.
Our guide covers the type of support you can claim funding for and how much money you could receive, as well as making sense of the application process.
Who is eligible for postgraduate DSA?
You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance as a Masters student if you live in the UK and have a:
- Long-term health condition
- Mental health condition
- Specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia or dyspraxia
By the time you apply for a postgraduate degree, you may have previously been diagnosed with one of these conditions. If so, your doctor should be able to confirm this. Of course, conditions may also arise later in life (including during your Masters degree). You can still claim for DSA if so, provided you have supporting evidence.
Any disability you claim for must affect your ability to study. This could be through mobility issues, the ability to work as quickly as you would like, or anything else that would require additional support.
Likewise, you must qualify for funding from your local student finance body and be studying on a course that lasts at least a year.
If you are unsure whether your condition qualifies for DSA, you can consult an official guide to the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Part-time students can qualify for DSA, but eligibility depends on where you are in the UK:
- In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, part-time students will be eligible if their workload is at least 25% of the full-time equivalent. For example, this would mean a part-time Masters that takes four years to complete instead of one year.
- In Scotland, the workload must be 50% of the full-time equivalent. this would mean a part-time Masters that takes two years to complete instead of one year.
Who isn’t eligible for DSA?
You will not be eligible for DSA if you’ve been granted equivalent funding from a different source such as:
- An NHS Social Work bursary (unless you’re a Welsh resident)
- NHS Disabled Students’ Allowance
- Your university
EU students usually aren’t eligible for DSA unless they’ve been living in the UK for five years before the start of their course.
Note that you can apply for DSA if you have already applied for other student finance, such as a postgraduate loan.
Studying with a disability or illness
A disability, illness or learning difficulty shouldn't stop you studying a Masters. Our guide offers tips for a successful postgraduate experience and explains how to access support from your university.
How much is DSA worth for Masters students?
Individual Disabled Students’ Allowances vary, depending on both your study and situation. The money is paid to you alongside other compatible loans that you may receive for your course. In addition, DSA will not need to be repaid.
You could receive funding for:
- Specialist equipment for your disability
- Non-medical helpers
- Travel costs related to your disability
- Other disability-related study costs
These are the current maximum amounts of DSA available to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland:
- England – £25,000 (this is increasing to £25,575 in the 2022-23 academic year)
- Wales – £31,831
- Northern Ireland – £10,469
Note that the word 'maximum' is important here – most students will receive less.
In Scotland, however, postgraduates receive DSA at the same levels as undergraduate students. This means that you could be eligible for the following:
- Basic allowance of up to £1,725
- Large items allowance of up to £5,160
- Non-Medical Personal Help (NMPH) of up to £20,520
What can you use DSA for?
Once approved, you can use DSA funding to help pay for various expenses during your Masters degree. These could include:
- Printers and scanners
- Recording equipment
- Specialist furniture
- Specialist software
- Training and insurance for equipment
You may be eligible to receive help with the cost of a new computer if you don’t have one that meets the specifications required for your postgraduate course. If so, you will need to budget at least £200 of your own money. This is the minimum amount the Government expects a typical student to spend on computer equipment.
Other expenses include:
- British Sign Language interpreters
- Mentors and one-to-one study skill support
- Mobility trainers
- Notetakers for deaf and visually-impaired students
- Sighted guides
DSA funding can be paid directly to you, equipment suppliers or to the helpers that you require.
What can’t you use DSA for?
You can’t receive Disabled Students’ Allowance for costs that you wouldn’t incur if you weren’t completing a Masters, or for student expenses that aren’t related to your condition.
For example, you can’t request DSA to pay for standard course books or materials (unless these are in braille or another accessible medium). Nor can you claim for alterations to your home or other costs that aren’t directly associated with your studies.
Changes to DSA
In September 2016, the UK Government made changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, requiring universities to take on more responsibility for disability support. In practice, this means that universities are now obliged to provide support for disabled students that was previously funded by DSA. As such, DSA is now available for a smaller range of expenses.
Each university is required to pay for its own non-medical support staff to cover needs such as transcription and reading. Funding for specialist accommodation and note-taking has been reduced. The Government will still cover the costs of sighted guides, though it’ll be the responsibility of the universities to fulfil their duty under the 2010 Equality Act.
How do you prove that you are disabled?
To claim postgraduate DSA you will need to demonstrate that you have a condition which affects your ability to complete your Masters degree.
You’ll need to have taken the relevant assessments to prove your disability. These could include:
- A doctor’s report or disability evidence form (PDF) for long-term physical or mental health issues.
- A diagnostic assessment for a specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia). Assessments must normally have been made since the age of 16.
If you are qualified for DSA, you may be asked to contact an assessment centre to discuss your needs and your funding on the whole. Don’t book this until asked.
Likewise – and this may sound obvious – do not buy any equipment or pay for anything that you wish to be reimbursed for prior to clearing it through the proper channels: you could be left out of pocket.
Applying for postgraduate DSA
The application process depends on where you live:
Additional paperwork may need to be filled out by parents, doctors and other people supporting your application.
If you’re applying through Student Finance England, there is a helpline for alternative format applications such as braille, large print and audio version: 0141 243 3686. You can also download a print version of the postgradute DSA application form (PDF). Alternatively, you can request one of these formats via email: email@example.com.
Applying for DSA alongside a postgraduate loan
You can still apply for DSA if you receive one of the UK Government’s Masters degree loans. These loans are designed to contribute to your basic postgraduate fees and living costs, while the Disabled Students’ Allowance is separate funding to help mitigate a disability.
Depending on your country of residence, this means that you can potentially apply for a £11,570 Masters loan and up to £25,000 in Disabled Students’ Allowances. Remember, unlike your loan, you DSA won’t need to be repaid.
If you apply for your postgraduate loan online you will be asked whether you also wish to apply for DSA.