University of Liège – Liege, Belgium

At Liege University, there is a support service for students with disabilities (Accompagnement des étudiants en situation de handicap – ASH). The ASH Service was set up by Professor Jean Jacques Detraux in 1996, initially for the Faculty of Psychology and then opened up to all faculties. Currently, this service supports mainly persons with disabilities. These equity groups were proposed/identified by the university’s internal policies, by national plan/legislation and suggested by community, citizens and other external stakeholders.

The activities that the department has carried out (in the last two years) with regard to equal access/inclusion/diversity are: 

  • support and counselling for students and university staff; 
  • lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff; 
  • public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts); 
  • improving digital accessibility; 
  • improving physical accessibility. 

At this university, individual support and public promotion of information (to reach as many people as possible) are the activities with the greatest impact. The last innovative practise/tool introduced at Liege University when it comes to ensuring inclusion, diversity and equal access was an external audit that was carried out in the Faculty of Law. All infrastructures have been marked out to improve access for people with reduced mobility.  

In addition to activities to support inclusion, Liege University implements measures/activities to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices through binding policy (legislation), strategy/action plan(s), recommendations/guidelines and preventive programmes. 

At Liege University, the motivation for establishing the service was to create a more inclusive campus, an university open to everyone. The factors crucial for the institutional leadership in deciding to establish a service for wider access/inclusion/diversity for students/staff were mostly to enable students with disabilities to pursue their university studies by making reasonable adjustments, so that everyone can flourish and enjoy a good quality of life. This is a successful service because the department responsible for it responds to many requests (which increases every year). The diploma awarded is the same as for students with no disabilities and without facilities. The requirements for university studies remain unchanged.
The inclusion decree was implemented in 2014. It sets out the procedures to be followed by higher education establishments.
The department is staffed by 2 psychologists, a neuropsychologist and a speech therapist. There is also a part-time secretary. A committee of experts (internal members of the university) is established to analyse the medical reports and the appropriateness of the accommodations put in place. It meets 6 times a year. Diversity, inclusion and equality topics are mentioned in this department and at the university’s strategies, policies and work plans. At this university, decisions are taken by the expert committee. Reasonable accommodations are proposed by ASH members. Teachers are also consulted in the event of a conflict or specific question. The university is part of national networks. The outcomes from these networks are mostly the emphasis given on equity, so that differences (disabilities) are no longer a barrier to study.
The main challenges to establishing this service were to maintain and properly distribute the budget allocated to students with disabilities and to change teachers’ attitudes (towards more open-mindedness). The main obstacle to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the service is to maintain or even to increase student numbers (to maintain the budget). Another obstacle could be a possible change in the law. The work of this office is totally independent, without the need for unpaid volunteers. The service is funded by the university’s social budget and the stability of this department is almost completely stable.
Liege University has a formal evaluation process of the service. An evaluation questionnaire is given to each student. It covers knowledge of the service, the facilities offered (personalized welcome, suitability of accommodation, satisfaction, etc.), individualized support (usefulness, possible improvements, etc.) and other service activities (awareness-raising, welcome day, etc.). The data is collected through a satisfaction survey (online form) that is sent to all students receiving support. The data is stored in an Excel file. The evaluation is available to members of the ASH department. Data is also shared with the institution and included report on actions taken to promote the success of undergraduate students.

Support service for students with disabilities

Liege, Belgium