The impact of the UN Convention Handicap on the education of TU Eindhoven

Students and rector share their insights

Afbeelding VN-verdrag met logo TU/e

08 September 2021

Since the signing of the declaration of intent in 2020, TU Eindhoven took multiple actions to facilitate inclusive education. During an interview, Frank Baaijens, Rector TU/e, spoke with Ari and Julie, both students with a disability at TU/e, about the achieved goals to make the education more inclusive. Marit Schreurs (consultant, ECIO) and Ellen van Veen (consultant, ECIO) took part in the interview and present their findings in this article.

Inclusive education = education for all

Baaijens: “I think we have an obligation as an institution to provide education to all who have the ability to study at the university.” This is, however, not always easy as accommodating certain students requires specific expertise which is not developed yet at the university. How to draw the line between what the university can and cannot do is a complicated question. TU Eindhoven is working hard to increase insight on this topic.

Steps since the signing of the declaration of intent

“We have developed an active policy plan today and we are working on an implementation plan,” Baaijens explains. The student voice is included through an advisory committee. Ari and Julie are part of this committee. The university also paid more attention to the accessibility of the website and the harmonization of facilities across different departments. Julie adds that she experiences improvement in the information provision for first year students. Julie: “I feel like we have been making some big steps already.”

Points of improvement for inclusive education

The students also see opportunities for improvements. Ari points out that students often feel like they constantly need to show a proof of their mental or physical impairments. “When you are struggling the most, that is when you have to talk to the largest number of people and you need to pursue a diagnosis if you have not had one.” As an international student, Ari experienced that it is even more difficult because they had to figure out the Dutch system first. For students with mental health issues, there are often long waiting lists at the student psychologists as well as external care providers. Not getting the appropriate help on time can lead to study delay. According to Ari it would be good to get more support of the university during the entire process, also before receiving professional help. Julie proposes that students who are waiting for the appropriate help can have monthly meetings with the study advisor to check how the student is doing. For international students, support is helpful to assist them in making their way into the Dutch system.

Peer to peer support

In addition to help from university, is peer to peer interaction also very effective, according to Baaijens. Therefore, he is delighted to hear about Lighthouse, a new association founded by Ari and two other students. Ari says, “We want to be a central point for mental health within the university, as we are a community founded by students who have already been through the steps of finding help, and who understand both the struggles and the system by trying to be a community for students founded by students who already have been through the steps.”

” I think the Lighthouse initiative is wonderful. Initiatives like that provide a lot of ideas to the board which we try to implement. ” – Frank Baaijens

Awareness of the importance of inclusive education

Julie points out that teachers have a very important role. “Listening to the student, that is, I think, the most important part.” Ari adds that some students feel like they are not trusted by the teacher to know what works best for them. Some teachers expect students to look for the easy way out. This makes it harder for students to be open about their issues. However, it is necessary that students inform teachers about their situation in order for the teacher to be able to act upon it. So to lower the threshold for students to ask for help, it is important to create more awareness among the teachers. “Maybe letting some students with special needs talk at an annual education day of the departments can make teachers more aware,” Julie proposes. Baaijens agrees with her idea. “It is your story and that has impact.”

Many positive experiences

At the end of the discussion, the students mentioned that they also have had many positive experiences at the university. Especially compared to foreign institutions, TU Eindhoven had made major steps already. “I am really happy to hear that. I think we are on our way. Before we did not have a specific plan and now we do. This is already a major step forward,” Baaijens concludes.

 Working group UN Convention Handicap

Institutions who signed the declaration of intent are welcomed to the Working group UN Convention which gathers three times a year to share knowledge and good practices about inclusive education. The activities of the working group support the implementation of actions within each institution that contribute to the formulated objectives. ECIO facilitates and supports this working group.

Are you interested in signing the Declaration of Intent and participating in the working group?

The language used during the interview was English. Therefore, this article is written in English. You can also read this article in Dutch.