A prominent UK university has said it will review its policy after it was accused of putting disabled students at a disadvantage by charging for extensions to long-term assignments where they are required for medical needs.
The controversy, and resulting publicity, has now escalated the situation with claims of discrimination on a wider scale.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC TV featured a postgraduate student who said she was charged a “tuition fee” of £200 by the University of Liverpool after asking for an extension. The student also said she was locked out of her student account with no access to emails or documents for her dissertation.
She told the programme she had provided evidence from her doctors to show the extension was required for medical reasons
She said: “I’ve not extended my studies because I want to have some more time to do my work. It’s because I need it. It’s the one thing that would have made my life easier, given all the health problems I’ve got. I’m trying my hardest to finish my work as it is – which has been pretty difficult.”
The BBC reports that the University’s policy states that students face a fee for extending their studies into a new academic year, even if they need the extra time because of personal or medical reasons – also known as extenuating circumstances.
The BBC added that the student and a colleague – who have a range of mental and physical health conditions – were charged £50 for a three-month extension, which rose to £200 when they asked to extend further.
The students felt their treatment could amount to discrimination, and that an extension could be considered “a reasonable adjustment.”
The university responded that the first student had “received a number of short-term coursework extensions as reasonable adjustments”. It said the second student was not registered as disabled with the University.
The Victoria Derbyshire programme also reported it had also heard of wider issues surrounding disability support at the University of Liverpool.
One student who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair said her requirements were not always met and she has been scheduled into inaccessible rooms “five or six” times. She added that when lecture theatres are accessible, “there tends to be something wrong with the rooms”, saying that in one of them it was not possible to see the lecturer due to frosted glass.
She told the BBC: “That kind of speaks to how the wider society treats disabled people, because they hide them away and put them in a corner so you don’t have to deal with them.”
The BBC also reported that a recent Freedom of Information request revealed that only 57 out of more than 100 buildings at the University of Liverpool were fitted with general use lifts, meaning many are inaccessible for disabled students.
The University responded: “We are sorry that [the student] has experienced a number of occasions where rooms have not met her needs and sincerely apologise for the use of frosted glass in a designated space for wheelchair users. This has now been rectified.”