This section provides an overview of the funding and support available to you in your studies and also contains advice about how and when to apply for this support.

Background

General Student Finance (e.g. tuition fees and loans)

Students are often eligible to apply for a loan which can help to pay for university tuition fees and to help with living costs. Funding arrangements differ depending on the personal circumstances of the student and the chosen course. Applying for your student finance is the most important aspect of your application to University, you need to know that the application process can take from 6-8 weeks. So, make sure you do it as soon as possible to give you the best possible chance of having funding in place in time for the start of your course.

Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)

Disabled Students Allowance is government funding intended to cover the extra costs of having a disability, long-term condition, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty such as an autistic spectrum condition, dyslexia or dyspraxia.

We recognise that not everyone who has an autistic spectrum condition would use the word ‘disabled’ about themselves. This includes a lot of the students we spoke to in our surveys. However, Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is the main way to access support for your study needs at the start of your course and beyond, so it is important to know all about it. Most autistic students who have been officially diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition, and are studying on an eligible course, are entitled to DSA – it is not related to any other benefits (even DLA or PIP) or means-tested.

DSA can help with the cost of any additional support you might require whilst studying, such as:

  • One-to-one support (such as a specialist mentor)
  • Specialist equipment (including useful software, such as mind mapping to help you make sense of a topic)
  • Travel (such as getting taxis when public transport is challenging)

DSA won’t cover costs that all students would have to pay for, like buying textbooks or standard laptops or tickets for the bus to and from university.

DSA is not usually paid directly to the student. Instead, the money goes directly to the providers of the support recommended for you, whether that is support workers or software or equipment. The main exception would be if you are entitled to funding for ‘consumables’ like the cost of printing, as some students need to print more than the average student in order to meet their study needs. In that case, you pay yourself for these things and keep the receipts and the money would be paid back into your bank account later.

How could this affect me?

Your student loan is important, it pays for your course, it pays for your accommodation and it will help you pay towards food and drink while living in your student accommodation. Without it you may struggle to attend University.

Autistic students who claim DSA are less likely to drop out of university and more likely to achieve their full potential.

Whether or not you received, or felt you needed support during school or college, university life is very different from the type of study you have been used to and getting the right support in place can make your life a lot easier. DSA is intended to level the playing field for students who have disabilities, long-term conditions, mental health conditions, autism and specific learning difficulties like dyslexia and ADHD.

Students in the Autism&Uni survey conducted by Leeds Beckett University who told the university about their autism and got support early in their course were more likely to enjoy their time at university and graduate with good grades than those who didn’t get any support.

The timing of the support is important too – students who had all their support in place before the end of the first semester had a much better experience than those students who did not access support. This means applying for DSA and Student finance as early as you can is a very good idea – it doesn’t matter if the university you end up going to changes.

You can also choose to access support at any point throughout your studies, even if you haven’t previously told the university about your autism, or you receive a diagnosis of autism after starting your studies.

Your support can also be reviewed and amended at any time if you find your needs have changed during your course or the support you have in place is not really working for you. You can contact your Disability Officer to discuss this.

What to do next?

Apply for Student loan and DSA as early as possible.

Practical tips

The quickest and easiest way to apply for student fees and maintenance loan is on the Government's student finance website.

You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance DSA to your funding body (e.g. Student Finance England). You can also find further information on applying for the allowance online. Once your application has been approved you will receive a DSA letter advising you to book a Study Needs Assessment.

Additional information and links

The University of Portsmouth Additional Support and Disability Advice Centre (ASDAC) provides extensive advice and guidance for students. 

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This toolkit is an adaptation of the Autism&Uni project led by Marc Fabri from Leeds Beckett University, under license CC BY 4.0. The original Autism&Uni project was funded with support from the European Commission with partners in the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. For more information about this project please visit the Autism&Uni website.

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