Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

After 'Misuse' Claims, New Checks on Aid for Disabled

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

After 'Misuse' Claims, New Checks on Aid for Disabled

Article excerpt

BIS confirms changes as NAO and PAC investigate company for over-payments. Jack Grove reports

Universities will face new checks on how grants for disabled students are allocated amid claims that companies are raking in large profits by over-diagnosing dyslexia.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has confirmed that it is setting up a body to monitor how much Disabled Students' Allowance, worth £128 million in 2012-13 and currently under threat of cuts, is awarded to students at different universities.

It follows a critical report by the National Audit Office into practices by a company operating at Plymouth University that MPs heard resulted in its students receiving 7.5 per cent of England's overall DSA budget despite making up less than 1 per cent of undergraduate numbers.

The report was commissioned after a whistleblower alleged that Claro Learning, a Tavistock-based firm, was "getting more business by giving students more than they needed at the low level, with so-called dyslexia", a Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing was told on 16 March.

Margaret Hodge, the committee's chair, said she believed that Claro had "behaved outrageously" by giving students a standardised assessment rather than prescribing dyslexia help on individual needs.

Students assessed at Plymouth by Access South West - part of Claro Learning - received an average DSA payment of £4,759, more than double the average received by other disabled students, Ms Hodge said.

Those with genuine needs felt that they were "unfairly stigmatised" by being bracketed with those "students with mild levels of dyslexia [who] were playing the system", she added.

Ms Hodge said that Nigel Larcombe-Williams - who carried out assessments for Access South West - and his wife - a Claro director - had made "an arm and a leg" out of the situation. …

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