In June 2018, Open Door and Disability wrote to all students to tell them that from September the University will no longer be a provider of funded Specialist Study Skills. This meant all directly provided tutoring for learning difficulties and related conditions were stopped.
The email detailed that for students to continue to access this support, they would need to change their provider. To do this, students would have had to contact Student Finance England (SFE) and go through a lengthy process to change their support to an outside provider.
This decision has been met with criticism from students who have reported problems with the accessibility of the new regime.
Students, some of whom are part of the Disabled Students Network (DSN), have expression that they couldn’t to find a provider or tutor who they feel comfortable interacting with. Some students have felt “overwhelmed” by the process, or suffer from conditions such as anxiety, which have prevented them from continuing to seek the support they require. Moreover, the DSN has stated that this shift to off campus is difficult for those with a physical disability related to autism.
Though they can have meetings on campus, this requires them to go either through the room booking process or to use the library, the latter of which has had increasingly negative responses to this use of rooms.
A DSN member told Nouse that: “If the University is going to stop providing specialist study skills directly, the University should suggest providers who will be able to come in and work on campus and provide a space for students to meet their advisors.” A DSN committee member said: “There have been no links between the network and disability services, little coordination between disability services, the university and YUSU, and we were not informed in advance of the changes last June”. These changes were implemented because at the end of last year, the only two study skills tutors had approximately nine hours per week allocated for advisory work. This allowed for a capacity of 30 students a week. With up to 100 students with learning disabilities, and 2000 students at the University with possible undiagnosed disabilities, this capacity had been insufficient, leading to the University to change to a system which too has not addressed the needs of students.
When we asked why was the decision made to move study skills support off-campus, a spokesperson for the University said: “The University is using local providers to extend our capacity and increase access to study skills sessions for those who need it. By using local providers we can reduce waiting times for access to study skills sessions and increase the number of sessions that students can take part in.” Critics have argued that, although this might address the need for an increased supply to reach the high demand for support, this does not tackle the problem of students being unable to access this new support as easily if at all.
Another prominent mentality among students is that there is too much of a focus towards Open Door. Open Door is free and available to students, and therefore is shared between students who have a permanent condition or disability, and those that require support for a temporary reason. One student with a disability said: “It can be quite intimidating to use the service at times, and can also be confusing to book an appointment. The University should make Open Door more accessible to students with a permanent disability, along with improving the website [of Disability Services] as currently it has a confusing and almost condescending design.”
The wait times for the Open Door service have also been a prominent problem. Both students registered with a disability and those without can access this service, which, in stressful periods such as examinations, has strained the system. Many students have encountered long wait times when trying to book an appointment, up to three weeks for some students interviewed by Nouse. If the situation is very urgent, emergency appointments can usually be booked within 48 hours. In response, the University said “The Open Door team service focuses on mental health support. The extended term time service has increased available appointments and reduced waiting times significantly.” Nouse asked the University if there are plans to increase investment in provisions for disability services. A University spokesperson said “the Disability Team is reviewing the model of support we put in place for students.”
They added they are working with the Inclusive Learning and Teaching policy to ensure that support is embedded in departments.