Last year, as a third-year student, was the first time I heard about the practices related to individual arrangements at the University. I did not get the information from the University – instead, I read an interview with disability activist Marja Puustinen from Helsingin Sanomat. In the interview, Puustinen describes the many obstacles standing in the way of being granted individual arrangements and how this places disabled students, for instance, in an unequal position compared to other students at the University.
Individual arrangements refer to various practical measures meant to ensure smooth study progress. Students may require these arrangements due to dyslexia or sensory impairment, for instance. Receiving additional time to complete an exam or submit an assignment, getting a separate exam room or being allowed to use alternative methods to complete studies are all examples of different individual arrangements. The practical implementation of the individual arrangements is based on the student’s individual needs and situation. However, being granted the individual arrangements at the University of Helsinki may require a lot of effort.
Students must first get a medical certificate, or a similar certificate signed by a specialist, to indicate why they need individual arrangements. Acquiring such a certificate may take up to several months, as was the case with Puustinen. The long time required to get the certificate may reduce many students’ chances of completing their study units. After acquiring the certificate, students have to request suitable individual arrangements separately for each course. Demanding the realisation of one’s rights separately for every single course is taxing for the students and may make it more difficult for them to cope with their studies.
Teaching personnel need additional support to help them implement the individual arrangements. Some arrangements may be easy to implement, such as giving additional time to complete an exam, whereas others may be more difficult to arrange due to limited resources. Depending on the arrangements, implementing the individual arrangements may put a strain on the teacher. If the teacher does not have sufficient knowledge of the arrangements, time spent on researching the matter may cut into their other duties. The whole process of granting individual arrangements needs a complete overhaul.
As part of the national accessibility plan, all higher education institutions are obligated to make their own accessibility plans. These plans are meant to delve into the challenges and solutions related to accessibility at universities. This work has begun at the University of Helsinki, too, and the Student Union is closely involved in the preparation process. Our goal is to have the accessibility of individual arrangements also taken into account as part of the plan to ensure that the arrangements do not put unnecessary strain on students or personnel.
At HYY, we have tried to find different solutions to simplify the process of being granted individual arrangements. The following are some of the ways in which the University could tackle the issues of the current system:
- Having more than one completion method for each study unit whenever possible.
- Creating a service path for students that clearly states the application process for the arrangements as well as the criteria for granting them.
- The University develops a system that is available in Sisu or the ‘My Studies’ page where students can describe their individual needs and, if necessary, edit or hide the information.
The difficulties that Puustinen had with being granted individual arrangements must not be repeated at any university. Students receiving the support they need to complete their studies at the University is in everyone’s interests. In an accessible university, students must have the opportunity to focus on their studies instead of having to worry about the realisation of their basic rights. Smooth study progress should not be a privilege.
Member of the Board in charge of equality