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Funding postgraduate study: Disability-related funding

The Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) is a needs-assessed, non-repayable grant that helps with the cost of specialist equipment, non-medical helpers, additional travel and other disability-related expenses

What can I receive?

Eligible postgraduates can receive up to £10,362 a year for the extra support that they require. DSAs are paid on top of any other student finance, but don't cover disability-related costs that you'd still have if you weren't attending a course. Students must also still make provision for their tuition fees and basic living costs.

Postgraduate DSAs are not 'means' tested, so your income, background and savings won't be taken into account when determining how much you'll receive. Instead, a 'needs assessment' will be undertaken to decide what help you require after your eligibility is confirmed. This is paid for through any DSA entitlement you may have.

The assessor will discuss your course and identify areas where you might benefit. They then write a report and send it to the awarding body. This will list equipment and other support that you can get for your course.

Am I eligible for DSA?

You can apply to the DSA scheme if you're a postgraduate with a disability that affects your capacity to study, including a:

  • long-term health condition;
  • mental health condition;
  • specific learning disability, such as dyslexia or dyspraxia.

You must meet the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010 and this should be proven by, for example, a doctor's letter or dyslexia diagnostic assessment.

Students on a full-time postgraduate course lasting at least one year can apply. This means that Masters programmes, PhD courses, the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and postgraduate diplomas all qualify. Part-time students are also eligible, though you must study at a rate of at least 25% of an equivalent full-time course. The course intensity affects how much funding you receive, so check this with your chosen institution.

You don't qualify for DSA if you're:

  • already receiving equivalent support from another funding source, such as your university, Research Councils UK or an NHS bursary;
  • doing paid work as part of your course;
  • a non-UK student, unless you've lived in the UK for three years and meet other residence requirements.

How do I apply for DSA?

You must send a completed 'DSA1 full' form to the relevant administrative body, which depends on your country of study.

In England and Wales, postgraduate DSAs are processed by Student Finance. Students in Northern Ireland must contact their local Education and Library Board - you can search for your local ELB at Student Finance Northern Ireland . Meanwhile, allowances in Scotland are provided by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) . Once your eligibility is confirmed, you may be asked to undergo the needs assessment.

Don't book your needs assessment until you're asked to, and don't buy any equipment until it has taken place - you won't be reimbursed. If you have the same requirements as during your undergraduate study and are beginning a postgraduate qualification immediately, you may not require another needs assessment.

The application process can take up to three months to complete, so apply early in the year. If your bid is rejected, you can seek explanation, appeal and ask for your case to be reviewed. If you're successful, the money is paid into either your bank account - in one lump sum, unless you're in Scotland - or directly to the organisation providing support.

If your circumstances change during your studies, contact your administrative body as you may require another needs assessment. You may be eligible for extra help if your condition worsens.

Disability-related funding is available from charities, foundations and trusts. For further information, see scholarships and bursaries.

What are the alternatives to the DSA?

Research Council-funded PhD students can apply for disability-related financial support from their awarding body. These are also called Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs), but aren't related to those discussed elsewhere in this article.

Application processes and the amounts awarded vary dramatically between each of the seven Research Councils. Most Research Council-funded study includes DSAs at the undergraduate rates.

For further information, see Research Council grants or Research Councils UK - Funding for Research Training .

If you're ineligible for any form of DSA, contact your university - many institutions provide similar financial support for disabled students.

Written by Editor, Prospects
September 2015

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