On 13 November peers in the House of Lords discussed the reassessment of the provision of allowance for dyslexic students attending university. Lord Addington, president of the British Dyslexia Association, called for a review of the system as he claimed it discriminates against students with dyslexia.
According to the British Dyslexia Association, 10% of people in the UK are dyslexic, meaning the issue concerns a large proportion of the Newcastle University student body and students throughout the UK. Inequity is particularly marked by the costs incurred: in this academic year, Newcastle University students can typically access a full diagnostic assessment for dyslexia at £275, although this can vary according to the type of assessment.
The Student Wellbeing website states: “It is the student’s responsibility to pay any costs. However, there are subsidies available of up to £300, which are non-means tested and can be claimed following the assessment, regardless of the outcome."
In addition to pointing out that many universities provide such funds, Lord Agnew set out his justification of the reassessment policy: "In a working paper in 2005, where the British Dyslexia Association was part of the consultation group, the view then was that progress into higher education represented a major transition and that more adult-based assessments should therefore be used."
This issue also affects students with other learning disabilities, as students with dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders are being similarly assessed. The House of Lords debate raised the importance of reassessment to ensure the fair distribution of finance and resources across all those with disadvantages.
“No one should be expected to apply for a Hardship Fund just so they can prove their disability is still valid"
Zoë Godden, Students with Disabilities Officer
A Newcastle University spokesperson explained how the institution, in particular, can assist these students: “Newcastle University offers students with specific learning difficulties a range of support throughout their studies. For example, specialist study skills tuition is available to students who have identified difficulties such as memory, processing, attention, organisation and time management typically associated with a specific learning difficulty.
"This support is tailored to meet individual learning needs with the aim of developing study strategies and skills that will be of benefit not only for academic study but which may also be transferable to some work placement opportunities as well. In addition, all students with disabilities are considered for appropriate examination adjustments; extended library loans; access to quiet study spaces; and access to computers with assistive technologies.
"This is alongside support and guidance from a Student Wellbeing Adviser to discuss and identify individual reasonable adjustments and support where needed. This support is arranged and funded directly by the University."
The consensus among peers was that a review of the system is overdue, in order to reduce disparities between disability assessments. In the meantime, the 2010 Equality Act ensures that students with specific learning disabilities are eligible to particular allowances, and Newcastle University provides options for both UK and international students.
Zoe Godden, Students with Disabilities Officer at Newcastle University Students’ Union, commented: “Dyslexic students should never be expected to pay such a high fee to be reassessed for a condition they have already been confirmed to have, especially when for many other disabilities, a doctors letter is the only evidence needed.
“It's important to note that Disabled Students Allowance does not offer monetary aid, but instead funds equipment, tutoring and other services that can help students, so if a dyslexic student is having to pay around £600 to be reassessed, the items they then would be eligible for via DSA may actually not be of equal value to their assessment cost. No one should be expected to apply for a Hardship Fund just so they can prove their disability is still valid.”
The University recognises this as an important issue: those affected by disabilities of any kind have access to guidance from a Student Wellbeing Advisor, and anyone encountering difficulties with their studies are advised to access the Academic Skills Kit (https://internal.ncl.ac.uk/ask/ ), which provides advice on developing academic skills and information about where students can seek further support.