Strategy on Equal Access to Studies and Work at the University of Akureyri.

The University of Akureyri places an emphasis on ensuring for students and staff equal and good access to studies and work.

Equality is one of the values of UNAK and the University is committed to ensuring that students and employees can succeed in their work and studies, regardless of disability, sexual orientation, gender, race, persuasion, religion and origin.

This Strategy is twofold; on the one hand, it extends to students and, on the other hand, to employees. The Strategy relates to aims, means, services and work methods at UNAK. There is in general more detailed coverage on students than staff, as the rights of the latter group are better ensured in legal acts and wage agreements.

1. Premises and definitions

According to a definition in Item 1 of Article 2 in the Act on Services for Disabled People with Long-Term Support Needs No. 38/2018, disability is a consequence of impairments and obstacles of various kinds that are created in the interplay between people with impairments and the environment and attitudes that hinder full and effective societal participation equal to others. Impairments of the person in question are long-term and the obstacles liable to lead to the person being discriminated against because of physical, mental or cognitive impairment, or impaired perception.

In this Strategy, however, an emphasis is placed on the understanding that disability is situational and entails inconsistency between the individual and the requirements made by the environment at each time.

The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from 2006 contains clear provisions for the rights and obligations of nations to ensure human rights and equality, for example, by contributing to equal access. Iceland ratified the Convention on 23 September 2016.

1.1 Management and organisation

The Equal Rights Committee has the role of ensuring that this Strategy is enforced. The Committee shall furthermore make sure that the Strategy is visible to employees and students on the website of the University and follow up that accessibility on the University campus is in accordance with the Strategy. For information on daily tasks that are a part of the Strategy, turn, on the one hand, to Student Counselling Services in the case of students, and on the other hand, to the Director of Quality and Human Resources in the case of staff members.

The Equal Rights Committee, Student Counsellors and the Director of Quality and Human Resources shall meet at the beginning of each academic year and review the status of matters that concern special solutions for staff and students. Special solutions refer to actions that are intended to provide students with equal conditions for pursuing studies, as well as ensuring that in study arrangement and course assessment, fair consideration is given to the special needs of students at each time. The solutions do not consist in reducing requirements concerning enrolment of students or learning requirements generally set by the University.

Special solutions for employees consist in actions that make it easier for the person concerned to attend to his/her work. This is in line with the UN Convention’s definition of reasonable adaptation. Reasonable adaptation refers to necessary and appropriate modifications and adjustments being made, which do not impose a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Furthermore, these parties shall review the Strategy every four years or more often if needed in connection with the Equality Strategy of the University and new knowledge in the field of equal rights affairs. It is preferable that students and employees with disabilities or special needs are involved in the review. It is permissible to contact the employees of the University and outside specialists for advice and opinions if needed.

The Equal Rights Committee shall discuss the Strategy at least once every year, but a meeting shall also be held within two weeks after enquiries have been received by the Committee or other reasons require its opinion. The Committee is permitted to create a working group in regard to the Strategy and its review if needed.

Complaints/appeals

A student who believes that he/she has been discriminated against or does not accept the solutions that Student Counselling Services or the supervisor of the unit concerned has offered, can send a complaint to the Director of Quality and Human Resources. An operating procedure for student complaints (VLR-005) can be retrieved on Ugla, the intranet of the University, and here can also be found an electronic form (EYD-002). The student in question can also contact the Equal Rights Committee which will listen to his/her concerns and provide instructions.

An employee who believes that he/she has been discriminated against or does not accept solutions offered by a supervisor can contact the Equal Rights Committee or the Director of Quality and Human Resources to be heard and receive guidance.

The University Council, Rector, Schools and administration at the University can request the opinion of the Equal Rights Committee in individual instances, in which case strict confidentiality shall be maintained and work conducted in accordance with the Act on Data Protection and the Processing of Personal Data No. 90/2018. Provisions in the Administrative Procedures Act apply to handling of such cases.

1.2. Responsibility and implementation

The Equal Rights Committee and Rector are ultimately responsible for the implementation of this Strategy.

Student Counselling Services supervise daily work relating to students. The Services make recommendations concerning solutions based on the professional opinion of a specialist in each case in close consultation with the student concerned. Student Counsellors also follow up on solutions in cooperation with those who are involved in the matter. The Director of Quality and Human Resources supervises daily work in relation to staff members.

The Management Board and Real Estate Manager are responsible for access to premises being in accordance with set requirements and for necessary improvements being undertaken, both as regards premises and the campus area as a whole. These parties also prioritise projects and make plans for further improvements in accessibility matters. They must ensure that special consideration is given to equal access in designing new buildings, in consultation with specialists and users.

2. Students

2.1. Scope of application concerning students

A prerequisite for a student receiving special solutions is that he/she submits documentation bearing on the matter, for example, diagnosis by a specialist, and signs an agreement in consultation with a Student Counsellor. A requirement for granting special solutions is that a student has been registered in studies, but it is, though, not a requirement for handling of cases that the person involved has been granted such a registration. Prospective students at the University can therefore receive information on solutions that are available or that may possibly be offered.

2.2. Goals

In the spirit of equality perspectives, the University welcomes students with disabilities, disorders or illnesses of various kinds, and every effort is made to fulfil their needs with the following goals as guiding principles:

  • To ensure that equal opportunities of students at the University to pursue studies are respected.
  • To ensure an accessible, safe and empowering learning environment for all students of the University and thereby encourage their participation and activity in studies.
  • To prevent discrimination based on impairments or special needs of students.
  • That students who have impairments or special needs in their studies have good access to the general solutions and support that is necessary and can be arranged to ensure their participation in studies.
  • To accommodate individual needs of students in their studies with special solutions as is possible, laws and regulations require, and the financial standing of the University allows.
  • That services for students with special needs undergo a requirements analysis, and that a description of solutions, means and processes is prepared with each and every person seeking the services.
  • To contribute to University employees being well informed about available solutions for special needs of students.
  • In addition to ensuring equal access to studies, the University of Akureyri also wants to ensure equal access to other services of the institution. This refers, for example, to the following:
    • Services of Student Counselling Services where employees oversee matters that fall under this Strategy and relate to students.
    • Services of the Student Registry and Service Desk.
    • Services of Library and Information Services; the Writing Centre of UNAK is, among others, a part of these services.
    • Services of the Director of Quality and Human Resources and the Quality Council.
    • Services of the Centre for Teaching and Learning which oversees, for example, computer and technology affairs, as well as examination supervision, and overall management and development of Ugla, the registration system for students.
    • Services of Real Estate and Operations.
    • Services of administrators and School Offices.
    • Services of teachers.
    • Services of the International Office.

2.3. Registration

Applications for admission to the University of Akureyri are evaluated on the basis of admission requirements for the study lines being applied to. Decision-making on provision of special solutions takes place independent of discussion on enrolment at the University.

Prospective students can request and receive detailed information on access to buildings and the campus area, as well as the means of support available and what can possibly be provided. The University is obligated to inform students who have special needs about their rights. The University furthermore takes the initiative in introducing these matters within the institution by publishing information on its website.

Confirmed diagnosis of special needs

A student who requests special solutions shall contact Student Counselling Services, which supervise services for students with special needs in their studies. A prerequisite for providing solutions is that a specialist has conducted a professional assessment of the study needs of the student on the basis of impairments or special needs. In the case of students who experience trauma during their period of study, those students may be required to submit a certificate from an appropriate specialist where changed conditions for pursuing the studies they are enrolled in are assessed.

Bjargir

On the webpage of Student Counselling Services can be found an access portal called Bjargir, https://www.unak.is/is/nemandinn/thjonusta/bjargir. Various useful information is available here on solutions and assistance that students can take advantage of.

Assessment of need for solutions

The University provides students with solutions on the basis of an existing evaluation. In exceptional cases, UNAK reserves the right to deny provision of solutions to a student, on the condition that it is clear that the content, structure or presentation of the studies that the student has selected are such that the student is predictably unable to fulfil the requirements set for the studies.

UNAK can also deny provision of solutions to a student if the University believes that it is impossible to provide the solutions necessary for the student to pursue the studies in question, such as to provide facilities or assistants. With the exception of the registration fee at UNAK, the services of the University and the special solutions it offers are free of charge to students. The University, though, does not support students in regard to purchasing equipment or books and does not pay for certificates that may be requested.

Agreement on special solutions

A Student Counsellor concludes on behalf of UNAK a written agreement on the services which specifies the commitments that the student and University enter into. Student Counselling Services also handle registration of individual cases in an electronic registration system that is access controlled.

Request for services

Applicants for studies at UNAK have the option of marking a special box on the application form of the University to receive special solutions. If an applicant has marked the box in question, a Student Counsellor summons the applicant to an interview to discuss his/her special needs for support and advice. Students who have already begun studies can also at any time request advice from a Student Counsellor. If a student requests services regarding teaching and taking of exams, a diagnosis of the problem must be in place.

Personal advice

The University offers personal advice for students. Student Counselling Services organise and supervise all such advice. The advice can be in regard to stress, self-image, depression, anxiety, procrastination, communication with fellow students and teachers, etc.

Library

The UNAK Library provides users with services based on their special needs. Here can be mentioned special advice on finding sources, longer lending period for books, and acting as an intermediary in supplying audiobooks.

Exams and taking of exams

The University of Akureyri provides students who have disabilities, disorders or illnesses of various kinds, with assistance and flexibility regarding exams without reducing requirements concerning educational performance. Student Counselling Services organise these measures in consultation with the student and Examinations Manager, as well as with teachers when applicable.

Exchange studies

The International Office at UNAK provides students with services in regard to exchange studies. Special solutions for exchange studies are offered through Erasmus+ to students who have disabilities, disorders or illnesses.

Diagnoses

In order to receive solutions due to disabilities, disorders or illnesses of various kinds, students must deliver to Student Counselling Services a copy of diagnostic reports or certificates from competent specialists. Following this, a conversation will take place concerning the assistance that the student believes that he/she needs and that the University believes it is capable of providing.

2.4. Matters concerning dyslexic individuals

UNAK places an emphasis on developing a supportive learning environment for students with dyslexia, as well as others.

Services for dyslexic students

The University provides information on services for students with dyslexia on its website. Student Counselling Services oversee the services and provide guidance to students with dyslexia who shall be able to obtain the services during their period of study. These services undergo a requirements analysis and are prepared with each and every student who seeks the services and they can be in the form of special courses, special solutions for studies, and personal advice.

Courses

Each fall, UNAK offers its students to take part in courses in study technique and coping with anxiety that must be specially paid for. Each fall, the Centre for Teaching and Learning holds a presentation for students concerning the technical equipment that is available in connection with special learning solutions.

Extension of period of study

All students of the University have the option of extending their period of study by half without special permissions. In this way, three-year studies can become four and a half years. It is possible to apply for further changes to study speed to the Faculty but those changes are dependent on Faculties’ rules on study progress.

Special learning solutions

Special solutions consist in changes from general procedures, for example, deviation from work speed and project submission, use of various aids, longer lending period of books and other items from the Library, as well as longer exam time.

Support for students with dyslexia is dependent on them submitting a diagnosis of dyslexia. This diagnosis must have been carried out using a recognised analytical tool, such as LOGOS. It is not sufficient to submit a report on screening for the problem. In evaluating need for special solutions, the age of the person involved when the diagnosis took place is taken into account, and consideration is furthermore given to recommendations for services for the person from an analyst.

3. Employees

This Strategy extends to staff members who have long-term impairments or illnesses. The University seeks to ensure for employees a working environment based on equality, good conditions and a safe working environment (cf. Act on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces No. 46/1980)
Purposeful measures shall be taken to counteract discrimination because of impairments of staff or long-term illness. Equality shall be maintained in hirings (cf. Act on the Affairs of Disabled People No. 59/1992) and instruction for new employees offered where the policy of the University towards staff members who have impairments or illnesses is presented.

Request for services

To receive the services available, employees who have long-term impairments or illnesses should request assistance in writing concerning their condition or changed circumstances. The request shall be sent to the School Dean or Director of the unit, as applicable, with a copy sent to the Director of Quality and Human Resources, and reasoning for the request shall be enclosed. The Director of Quality and Human Resources and the Equal Rights Committee can provide guidance to employees concerning solutions and means and ensure that their needs are appropriately met. Parties that are involved in such requests are bound by confidentiality regarding their content.

Evaluation of need and solutions

The University provides employees who need special solutions due to impairments or illnesses with assistance according to evaluation of need. In some instances, a prerequisite for granting solutions is that a professional assessment by a specialist has been carried out. Experience of employees and their assessment of need for solutions is in some instances taken as fully valid and in such cases, external confirmation is not required.

Solutions to ensure equal conditions for staff

The University provides employees who have impairments or illnesses with assistance and solutions as is possible. The Security Committee or the safety representative of employees can be called on to consult and advise, cf. Act No. 46/1980 on Working Environment, Health and Safety in Workplaces.

Solutions for employees with impairments can, for example, extend to the following factors:

  • Access to University buildings and areas
  • Suitable office housing
  • Special equipment in offices
  • Computer and technology related objects
  • Read-throughs of documents
  • Support interviews
  • Flexible work hours

 

Approved in the University Council on 24 February 2020.