Learning Accommodation Agreements (LAAs)
Good universities recognise that students learn differently. Where learning differences are rooted in serious health complications, significant neural divergence, or extenuating personal circumstances, those universities work to accommodate those differences in agreement with teachers and regulatory bodies. Accommodations usually take the form of additional flexibility, support and guidance offered to students, and may be temporary or permanent, depending on the situation.
At UCU these arrangements are formalised in Learning Accommodation Agreements (LAAs).
Utrecht University’s central working group for special learning accommodations maintains oversight and gives advice to all faculties. Harmonization of classroom and examination accommodations between faculties fosters equality of student experience and interfaculty mobility.
Being part of the university, UCU acknowledges central norms and recommendations whilst also maintaining some limited freedom to depart from them.
UCU’s local strategy for LAAs is set by a group including representatives from the UC Student Council, the UC Student Association, the Tutor team, the Exam Board, the Admissions Board, the Connect Centre and the Director of Education. Each semester this group meets to review the strategy for LAAs.
Serious health concerns, neural differences and extenuating circumstances can affect the study experience, and manifest uniquely per individual. Just a few examples include chronic physical/mental illness (e.g. Chron’s disease, anorexia, depression), significantly atypical neurological make-up (e.g. autism, dyslexia, ADHD), and difficult personal/family situations (e.g. childhood trauma, civil conflict, family separation). Such circumstances, and many others, may seriously affect concentration capacity, adherence to deadlines, levels of class participation and more.
A caring response to these circumstances is not limited to LAAs, but can also include a leave of absence, a courseload reduction, extra study guidance, counselling, and formal healthcare.
Most typically, LAAs can offer some or all of the following flexibilities as standard…
- 20% more time for tests and examinations (12 minutes per each exam hour)
- additional time to complete papers, projects and assignments (this LAA guarantees extra time, and the precise amount is to be agreed between student and teacher)
- permission to wear noise cancellation headphones (the student must demonstrate to the exam supervisor beforehand that they are not connected to any electronic device)
- the right to ‘first-choice seating’ in exams rooms, including at wall-facing desks (provided the student arrives well on time at the exam room)
- permission to use a lap-top during class and for tests and exams (the student must demonstrate to the exam supervisor in advance of starting that the internet connection on their device is disabled, and they may be monitored throughout the exam).
Other accommodations are also possible, depending on need.
At any point in any semester, students can first meet with their tutor to discuss unique learning needs and how these may (or may not) be met by a LAA. After this – or in some cases as a first step – students are welcome to visit the Connect Centre where the LAA can be drafted together with a counsellor.
Whilst we work predominantly on trust here at UCU, our external regulators ask us to formally account for all our decisions (which is normal for all universities). Therefore we might need to ask for a diagnosis paper or something similar which confirms any established health concerns.
Early requests for LAAs work best for students and teachers. When LAAs are presented to teachers less than two weeks before the flexibility is required, it may not be possible on that occasion to offer those accommodations in time.
The Connect Centre is a fitting venue to discuss and draft an LAA, though is not the policy gatekeeper. After they are drafted, each LAA must be approved by the ‘LAA Review Group’, with representation from the Diversity Committee, the Tutors and the Connect Centre. This short process is handled by the Connect Centre, and can usually happen within 2-3 working days.
If non-standard provisions are required (see the list of standard provisions above), the LAA Review Group and possibly the Exam Board must approve these before they are included in a LAA.
According to law, students must meet all graduation requirements before a diploma can be awarded. LAAs therefore aim not to exempt/exclude students from any parts of the learning, but rather include them in it fully. In this light, UCU’s Academic Rules and Regulations limit the kind of flexibility possible, which might differ from that which you may have received previously at high school or at another university. LAAs must comply with the Academic Rules and Regulations (set by the UCU Council and Dean), and have no authority to over-rule them.
In contrast to UU’s centralized norms, UCU offers more extra time per exam hour, and more provisions as standard.
Furthermore, where appropriate, UCU’s LAAs can include deeper-level written context for a student’s situation (e.g. elaboration on particular illness, insight into neurodivergency, outline of personal circumstances), so that students can be better ‘seen, heard and understood’ by their teachers. This is often reassuring to students who might otherwise feel compelled to repeat their story to several different teachers each semester.
It will be converted into a PDF and sent by email from the Connect Centre directly to the student, and cc-d to their personal tutor. This ensures tutors are updated on learning accommodations, and can discuss this with students in the context of academic planning and general progress.
Unless otherwise stated, the LAA is valid for the remainder of the student’s program.
UCU also offers ‘Personal Context Statements’, for when students wish their personal circumstances to be known to teachers even when no special provisions stem from them. These can be discussed, co-written, and issued at the Connect Centre. This supports students in being better ‘seen, heard and understood’ by their teachers.