Structural changes to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) sector that come into effect this spring are having significant negative impacts on students, and have left only two major companies dominating service provision. 

The present Conservative Government is notorious for its (mis)handling of current affairs, notably those to do with students. The alterations to student loan conditions in 2022, which increased the timeframe for student loan write-offs from 30 to 40 years and reduced the repayment threshold from £27,295 to £25,000, seems to be trapping students further into a web of debt. The Government’s ongoing trend of turning their back on ordinary students in favour of monetary gain has manifested most recently in the restructuring of the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).

For years, numerous companies have provided DSA services through contracts with the Student Loan Company (SLC), using their specialisms to cater to students’ diverse needs. This ranges from providing specialised mentoring for learning disabilities, to the provision of equipment facilitating their studies, such as printers or digital learning software. However, an extensive restructuring process has been proposed to line up with governmental efficiency and profitability ideals, sidelining the consequences for students and small business.

The restructuring initiative took root in 2022 when the SLC introduced a proposal to revamp the DSA sector. The plan involved inviting bids from different companies to supply services to certain areas of the UK, with the SLC awarding contracts to the companies that proved they were the most “efficient” providers. Despite assurances that both small and large companies could participate on equal ground, concerns were expressed about advantages for larger corporations who had potentially gained foreknowledge of the transition, as well as the disruptive impact on students reliant on existing DSA support. These concerns were downplayed and left without significant recognition from the SLC.

In 2024, perhaps predictably, only two major companies – Capita and Study Tech – have secured contracts for the entirety of the UK. This means that all DSA services will be provided by these two companies, leaving the various smaller companies who previously contributed to service provision with a sudden huge loss of business. This market monopolisation allows the two corporate giants to dominate the entire sector. Meanwhile, the downsizing that many smaller companies have been forced into has already translated into significant layoffs, likely to worsen in the future, only exacerbating the monopoly.

The SLC justifies these decisions in the name of “efficiency”, however, recent decisions concerning students have often prioritised the goal of monetary gain over anything else. Business giant Capita was accused in 2015 of using governmental contracts to push smaller companies out of business, in turn increasing their own profits, and this latest contract for DSA provision once again brings these concerns to light. 

The scheduled transition to the new service model is being carried out across Q1 of 2024. The impacts on students are already beginning, with University of Sussex DSA recipients being warned  that their study skills advisors won’t be there for aid for more than a month due to the restructuring and resultant layoffs. Numerous students around the country face the same disruption, losing advisors they have grown secure with to abruptly start from scratch with someone new. Many students rely on various types of DSA support to get through university, and the pending unseen impacts of the loss of specialised support are worryingly uncertain. 

The enduring consequences of the Conservative government’s financially focused legacy will likely echo for years, and this episode is just one facet of a broader pattern. With the general election fast approaching, it is more important than ever to question exactly who benefits from the decisions of those in power. 

Photo by Christopher Bill on Unsplash

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