by Robyn Banks

Last semester at University I was diagnosed as suffering from learning disabilities (Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs)). Whilst the diagnoses of having ADHD, Dyspraxia and Dysgraphia didn’t come to much of a shock to me, the fact that I then had to pay £100 in order to be diagnosed did.

At UEA, the cost for initial screening is £30. This means you will be told your possible diagnosis as well as the help available to you on this basis. You then are offered the choice of seeing an educational psychologist who would help to give a formal diagnosis for a further £70 or just go with what has been offered so far, but not having access to any form of help in the forms of Disabled Students Allowance. Whilst it seems a bit of a no-brainer to go the whole hog in order to receive as much help as possible,  for some students it’s not as simple as that.

For students with little to no income, paying out £100 for a diagnosis isn’t an easy choice. I had to wrestle with the idea of actually following through with my diagnosis at that cost or having enough money to make sure I could afford to eat over the summer holidays. Whilst this sounds drastic it is the choices that some students will have to make all the time this is charged.

For students with little to no income, paying out £100 for a diagnosis isn’t an easy choice

I was lucky to receive the extra hours needed to cover the payment from my job, but there is no system in place in order to cover the cost for students that simply don’t have the funds to cover the costs. The closest thing offered is the Access to Learning Fund, also known as the Hardship Fund. Designed to help students who are struggling financially at university, it is limited in what is available to students and requires any applicant to provide 3 months of bank statements as well as savings and other accounts they may have. This fairly intrusive amount of information that required then forms the basis of a yes or no answer as to if they’ll receive any financial help.

(University of East Anglia. Photo via Concrete-Online 12/11/16)

This shows the systematic issues with the access to learning that is actually available to students from less well-off backgrounds. No one should ever have to make the choice between receiving the help that they need and being able to take the financial implication of receiving that help. When universities are praising themselves for their student satisfaction results, they’re failing the students that need the most help.

Students should have the help they need freely available to them. Students are expected to receive the highest possible grade not only for their own benefit but also so that the university they’re in can parlay the results into charging next year’s students higher fees, and from that and their attendance, into higher profits. This financial model that has come into effect with the continued marketisation of education and, at UEA, it is now having a direct effect upon the accessibility of learning to students.

Students should have the help they need freely available to them

These students will be ignored the results of the National Student Survey (NSS) are released and the self-praise is heaped on by the management in what a fantastic job they’re doing. They’ll continued to be ignored until their results start to affect their institutions results and score in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), at which a point the blame will be shifted upon them instead of looking into the reasons as to why they’ve struggled.

Being diagnosed with a SpLD is tough. Whilst I was surprised with the diagnosis I received it still means that I have to learn to adapt to working with them for the rest of my life. The least that UEA and other institutions could do is make sure that students such as myself can receive the help they need without having to take a huge financial hit for it.

Featured image via Uni101

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