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Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) for Masters Study

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 provide a very necessary and worthwhile boost to help pay for any additional costs you may have to bear.

You may have heard that the government has recently announced changes to this allowance - taking some responsibility out of public hands and into universities’. Those changes could affect the type of support you can claim funding for and how much money you can receive. We've covered them on this page.

As with most funding or university applications, the process is not necessarily a quick or easy one. There can be a lot of documentation to manage and fiddly forms to submit. This guide will help you make sense of it all.

Who is eligible for postgraduate DSA?

You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance as a Masters student if you are a UK resident with a long term health condition, a mental health condition, or a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

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 corroborate 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. whether this be through issues of mobility, the ability to work as quickly as you would like, or anything else that would require additional funding. Likewise, you must qualify for funding from Student Finance England 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.

Who isn’t eligible for DSA?

You will not be eligible for DSA if you are an EU student, or have been granted funding from a different source such as the NHS or the university.

Note that you can apply for DSA if you have already applied for other student finance, such as a tuition fee 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. Happily the money is are paid to you in addition to other compatible loans that you may receive for your course. In addition, DSA will not need to be repaid.

For the 2016 to 2017 academic year, funding may be given for specialist equipment, non-medical helpers and for general allowance. These differ depending on whether you are undertaking a full or part time course, with less available to you as a part time student in some circumstances.

The maximum amount of DSA available to a full time student is £10,362. Note that the word 'maximum' is important here - most students will receive less.

What can you use DSA for?

Once approved, DSA funding can be used to help you pay for various expenses during your Masters degree. These can include computers or equipment, helpers or extra travel.

You may also 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.

DSA funding can be paid directly to you, or to the relevant helpers that you require, as relevant.

DSA changes

Disabled Students' Allowance is changing from the 2016-7 academic year. You will still receive support for any condition that affects your studies, but more of this should be provided by your university rather than through additional funding. You can jump to more information on DSA changes further down this page.

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 cannot 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.

How do you prove that you are disabled?

In order to claim postgraduate DSA you will need to demonstrate that you have a condition which affects your ability to compete your Masters degree.

In particular, you will need to have taken the relevant assessments to prove your disability. These could include:

  • a doctor’s report or disability evidence form 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

Applying for DSA is, as per usual, a matter of filling in a form, either online or in print. There are separate forms for English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh students. Additional paperwork may need to be filled out by parents, doctors and other people supporting your application.

It is quite important that you have a clear idea as to what you are eligible for, and that you have the documentation to support your claim. Don’t be lulled by the forms' bright-and-breezy fonts and colours: make sure that your information is correct and clear throughout.

There is also a helpline available for alternative format applications such as braille: 0141 243 3868.

Applying for DSA alongside a postgraduate loan

You can still apply for DSA if you are taking out one of the government’s new Masters degree loans. The loan is designed to contribute to your basic postgraduate fees and living costs. The Disabled Students’ Allowance is separate funding to help mitigate a disability.

This means that you can potentially apply for a £10,000 Masters loan and up to £10,362 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.

How is DSA changing for Masters students?

Support for disabled students is changing from the 2016-17 academic year. Previously the government provided DSA as a grant designed to cover a wider range of expenses.

From September 2016, disability support will largely be the responsibility of universities. You will still be able to claim DSA, but money will be available for a smaller range of expenses. This means that the total grant you can claim will probably be reduced.

Each university will be 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 will also be reduced. The Government will still cover the costs of sighted guides, though it will be the responsibility of the universities to discharge their duty under the 2010 Equality Act.

Funding may vary from university to university. The amount of DSA you can claim may depend on the facilities at your institution.

Is DSA being ‘cut’?

The policy does represent a cut to DSA in simple terms as students will receive less money directly from the government. In principle this shortfall should be made up by greater investment in facilities and support from universities. This is intended to ensure that disabled students actually require less direct financial support to study a Masters.

It remains to be seen how the changes will affect students in practice. Organisations such as the NUS are sceptical of the longer term effects and will be monitoring the effects of the policy. You can stay updated with any important news by subscribing to our newsletter.

If you wish to apply for an allowance for the 2017/ 2018 term then it is, as it stands, a matter of contacting universities directly, arranging meetings and visiting sites to find the right deal for you.

Ready to start looking for your Masters?

DSA is potentially available for all Masters degrees in the UK. You can also check out our guides to other funding options.

Last updated - 15/11/2016

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