The rules pertaining to intermission – taking time out of studies usually for reasons relating to disability or illness – vary quite often quite drastically from college to college, even from person to person. An intermitting student at one college may be completely banned from college grounds, whereas at another college this may not be an issue at all. One recurring issue with intermission has been the conditions placed on individuals in order for them to return to study. Sometimes the conditions are just having a medical sign-off as being well enough to return, but in a lot of cases, and across a lot of colleges, students are set examinations that they have to pass in order to return.
Often, these students are not expected to simply “pass” with a 3rd, as one doing their end of year exams would be able to do, but they are expected to get a 2.2 or even a 2.1 in an examination, after having been barred from College grounds (which includes access to their library and other academic resources). If a student fails to meet these requirements, they will be barred from returning to study at the University, and will lose their place at Cambridge.
The Disabled Students’ Campaign believes that this practice, of setting exams as a condition for returning from intermission, is tantamount to indirect discrimination. We believe this because the vast majority of the time, students who intermit will fall under the legal definition of disabled.
The legal definition of disability is thus (under the Equality Act 2010):
A person is disabled when they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
- ‘Substantial’ means it has a significant impact on your ability to undertake daily activities. Examples in Government guidance includes (but specifically does not limit the definition to) walking, verbal interaction, using everyday objects (e.g. feeding yourself), lifting and carrying. Due regard is given to whether a person is able to adequately feed themself, sleep, keep warm, etc. Many students who intermit do so precisely because they cannot carry out some or many of these everyday activities at the same time as their degree.
- ‘Long-term’ usually means you have had the condition for 12 months or more. While many students who intermit (e.g. for mental health problems) may not have necessarily had their problems for the full 12 months, by the time they have developed their condition, and taken a year out from study for medical leave, they no doubt have met the criteria of ‘long-term’.
The Disabled Students’ Campaign is working via University committees to question colleges on their policies regarding exams as a condition for returning from intermission, and will be updating in Lent and East 2017.
THE “UNIVERSAL” BUS SERVICE
In summer of 2016 we found out secondhand that the Uni 4 bus service, which ran from Addenbrooke’s to West Cambridge and serviced Homerton College and the Education Faculty, would soon be changing its route to go along the guided busway instead. This would be disastrous for disabled students at Homerton and EdFac who need the bus to get to the Sidgwick Site, West Cambridge, or any of the hill colleges. There has been a petition and a photo campaign by Homerton JCR, and the Disabled Students’ Campaign took a motion to CUSU Council, which was universally supported, to oppose the changes to the bus route.
University’s response was thus: “The new subsidised Universal bus service replaced the Uni4 in July 2016 after considerable work to appraise all options, and a long process of discussion at the relevant university committees. The University has supplied information to those on Hill’s Road affected by the change. This includes continuing to use the Universal bus service or using the other bus services which travel along Hill’s Road and have stops outside major locations like Homerton College.”
This response was frankly inadequate, as it failed to take into account that not one other bus service went from Homerton/EdFac to anywhere close to the Sidgwick Site or West Cambridge, and that it would require students to get two separate buses for each journey just to attend their lectures. The only way that this appraisal of the situation would be accurate is if it was assumed that all students are able to walk from town to the Sidgwick Site.
After pressure, the University has organised to spend thousands of pounds on individual taxi rides for students who need to attend their lectures and would be disadvantaged by the changes to the bus route. This response is unsustainable. The DSO is currently working with the CUSU President to request update reports on the Uni4 bus in relevant University committees, to ascertain if the route change would indeed end up resulting in the £63k profit that was projected in initial plans.
MANIFESTO PRIORITIES OF THE DISABLED STUDENTS’ OFFICER
- Mandatory supervisor training on disability
- Firming up of the options for extended study/alternative examination arrangements
- A re-examination of Fitness to Study procedures and harmful practices
- The implementation of a University-wide lecture recording policy