Ask the panel

May 11, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'Is there a duty to promote disability equality within the curriculum above and beyond the requirements set out by the Quality Assurance Agency? Should we be collecting data on improvements made within the curriculum?'

* A spokesman for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "In response to your query, yes, the duty to promote disability equality applies as much to the curriculum as it does to all other functions of a higher education institution. The Disability Rights Commission envisages that the work of the QAA will be affected by the disability equality duty (DED) to the extent that its reviews and audits are concerned directly with curricular matters. The QAA carries out its work on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is a public body subject to the general and specific duties of the DED.

"Specific duties such as information-gathering and impact assessment will therefore apply to the area of curriculum. So, for example, if a higher education institution carries out a disability equality impact assessment on its modern history curriculum, it may find that it can meet the DED by ensuring that the disability rights movement in the second half of the 20th century is properly represented in modules on more general civil rights movements.

"The Equality Challenge Unit has recently published guidelines for academic staff on delivering teaching and curriculum in a way that meets the DED and other disability legislation, at this link: http:///www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/guidancepublications/

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "Delivery of the curriculum is the most important service provided by the university to its students and, as such, it is vitally important that awareness of the disability equality duty informs the construction and delivery of the curriculum.

"For staff to be fully equipped to meet their duties in this area, the UCU would urge that disability equality training, which should be provided for all staff, looks at ways in which this can be done, as well as looking at more obvious areas such as providing course materials in accessible formats.

"Some subjects lend themselves to an approach that includes disability equality much more obviously than others. Law courses will obviously have to cover the development of disability discrimination law in the 20th and 21st century, for example. In some subject areas, practitioners may struggle to see what changes to the curriculum they need to make to meet the disability equality duty - or indeed, the race or gender duty. It might be a positive move for these departments to set up working groups to develop good practice in this area."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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