Assessing Descriptions of Academic Program Inherent Requirements
Matt Brett, Andrew Harvey, Andrew Funston, Rachael Spicer and Adam Wood
La Trobe University
Disability practitioners have long advocated the use of Inherent Requirement Statements (IRS) to assist students with disability at university. IRS are guidelines that assist students with disabilities by clarifying the skills and capabilities that are required to successfully engage in studies. The basis for IRS is legislation that seeks to prevent discrimination against disability and provide standards for disability in education. While there is legal provision for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist people with disability, there is no requirement under legislation to specify inherent requirements and little prescriptive detail how institutions can choose to comply with regulatory requirements.
Universities are having to balance multiple and sometimes competing objectives: increasing enrolments of students with disability; providing transparency for prospective students on course requirements; ensuring that reasonable adjustments are made for enrolled students; promoting the employability of all students; and satisfying the demands of professional and registration bodies.
The report audited Australia’s 38 universities, examining 419 courses, to assess IRS. Of the courses, 78 or 19 per cent had a unique IRS. Substantial variation existed among universities on requirements documented; terminology employed; prevailing fields of education; course guides; and the forms in which requirements are made available to students.
Several issues arise: students with disability may be being poorly informed and poorly assisted; there may be legal implications arising from students being accepted in one course but not accepted by employers on qualification; inconsistencies between universities in IRS may suggest discrimination.
The report made four recommendations:
• University stakeholders explore options for achieving greater consistency, clarity and transparency of IRS across institutions and disciplines.
• University stakeholders with responsibility for disabilities monitor the impact of IRS on prospective, enrolled and graduating students.
• Further research is conducted into IRS on prospective, enrolled and graduating students, including the effects on participation, achievement and graduate outcomes.
• Universities ensure that descriptions of academic requirements and their use in processes of identifying reasonable adjustments are accessible to, and transparent for, students and that these descriptions are consistent with legislation relating to disability.
Brett, M., Harvey, A., Funston, A., Spicer, R. & Wood, A. (2016). The Role of Inherent Requirement Statements in Australian Universities. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.