For anyone, applying to study a university degree is a big decision. Moving away from home for the first time, having to live independently, and keeping control of your finances are all challenges. Having a long-term health condition like PH is another huge factor to consider, but there is help available, as Chris Coates reports.

Government funding

If you live in the UK, you can apply for the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). This is for students who have a health condition or disability which affects their ability to study. DSAs are allocated as grants, so they do not need to be repaid, and can be claimed in addition to any other student finance, such as a maintenance loan. The amount you receive depends on your individual needs and income, so if you want to get a part-time job or keep your current one as you study, this may affect how much you’re entitled to. Undergraduates can claim up to £25,677 per year, while postgraduates are entitled to £10,993. These figures are the maximum amount – most students will receive less. To get the funding, you have to submit proof of your health condition, and once approved you will be asked to attend a local centre for a needs assessment. This is your opportunity to inform your funding provider about how your condition affects your studying. After your assessment, you’ll be sent a report which shows the equipment and support you need, and the amount of funding you’ll be granted.

The open university

The Open University (OU) provides the opportunity for students to study from home, full-time or part-time, with moral support throughout the course and extra financial help when necessary.

Lynda Culley, advisor for the Disability Support Team at the OU, told Emphasis: “We encourage any student with a long-term health condition such as PH to make an application for a Disabled Students Allowance as soon as they are reserved on a module. However, we also have a Study Support Fund which can help to meet some of a student’s study-related costs. This is means tested and based on household income but covers costs like books, childcare and consumables such as printer ink and paper.

“We offer to write a personalised ‘Disability Profile’ which outlines the main impact of a student’s health condition on their study and making anticipatory adjustments.  This confidential profile would be used by tutors and others involved in study support.“We can also fund non-medical helpers where they are not covered by the Disabled Student’s Allowance.  For someone with PH, this might be a practical support assistant to help at home, in the library, or in exams and tutorials. They might act as a companion, note-taker or even carry equipment.”

Union support

The National Union of Students has been running a campaign for the last four years to ensure that disabled students are represented and supported across all universities. In 2014, when the Government announced proposed cuts to the Disabled Students Allowance, the NUS campaigned fiercely and the idea was eventually scrapped.

Rachel O’Brien, Disability Support Officer at the NUS, told Emphasis: “People are shocked when I tell them that 92 per cent of disabled people don’t use a wheelchair. Far too often, disabled people are seen to be inaccessible or irrelevant and we want to make sure that universities do not restrict their chance to study.  It’s also vital that decisions about support for disabled people are led by disabled people.

“The Disabled Students’ Allowance is an incredibly important means of support for so many students, but it is only a small part of the help they need. At the NUS, we have done great work in the past four years to ensure that disabled student support is not reduced and we have lobbied universities to review and improve their welfare support services for disabled people.”

Non-financial support

Every university in the UK is required to have a specialist team for students with health conditions and disabilities. When you enrol on a course, you will be contacted by the Disability Liaison Officer (DLA) from your academic department to discuss how they can support you throughout your studies.

Lynda Culley from the Open University told us: “Most qualifications can be studied over several years and therefore ‘part-time’. If unexpected circumstances occur, students can return to a module at a later date, or apply to postpone an examination. We also offer a variety of formats for module materials to suit study at home, such as PDFs, e-books to download onto portable devices, audio files, transcripts and comb-bound books for ease of handling.”

Shani Fernando