3/21/19 · Institutional

UOC and Randstad Foundation unveil Chair in Disability, Employment and Social Innovation

The Chair has a twofold goal: to increase both the percentage of disabled students attending university (currently 6%) and their chances of gaining access to quality jobs
Photo: Unsplash/Nik MacMillan (CC)

Photo: Unsplash/Nik MacMillan (CC)

"The idea of disability has been part of the very history of humanity, but all too often that history has been conceived as parallel worlds that never cross paths", explained the new academic director of the Chair, professor of Social Pedagogy, Jordi Planella. This Chair is committed to “breaking” these social structures, and “one of the most direct ways to do that is by working towards decent employment opportunities for people with disabilities”, adds this UOC professor.

For Planella, "education plays a fundamental role in the opportunities to achieve this goal". In fact, more than 1,200 disabled students currently study at the UOC. The project is based on academic-technical co-direction between the UOC and the Randstad Foundation to allow the academic and business worlds to work together in a coordinated manner. Through the creation of a social innovation laboratory, several projects will be developed, such as an information point for disability and employment (Disability & Jobs), research scholarships, toolkits to analyse the level of business inclusiveness, the impact of public policies on disability, etc.

The presentation in Madrid was given by the director of the Randstad Foundation, María Viver, and the UOC president, Josep A. Planell. Both Viver and the foundation she leads feel that "education is key" to bringing groups at risk of exclusion into the workplace, "thereby making them more employable". Since its creation in 2014, the Randstad Foundation has attended 26,982 people at risk of exclusion, helping 7,198 find jobs and offering training to 6,463 people with added difficulties. President Planell added: "The UOC’s mission is to facilitate lifelong education for all. That is why it strives to make sure that those with disabilities have access to it”.

The new Chair includes an advisory board of experts that will guarantee the social and political transfer that the project requires. In alphabetical order, the board members are, Sara Acevedo, professor at Bellevue College and tenure-track researcher at Miami University, a neurodivergent mestiza, academic activist, educator and disability justice advocate; Llorenç Andreu, director of the UOC Master’s Degree in Learning Difficulties and Language Disorders; Manuel Armayones, the UOC eHealth Center Development Director; Valentín Bote, director of Randstad Research; Lluís Garay, director of the University Master’s Degree in Corporate Social Responsibility; Clara Garrido, Senate attorney; Miguel Laloma, director of the Partner Companies Department at the SERES Foundation; Brígida Maestres, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences; Óscar Martínez, professor of Social Education at the Ramon Llull University, specialist in disability, job placement and education: Silvia Mata, responsible for adapting the course programmes to the special educational needs of UOC students; Jaume Moregó, director of UOC Institutional Development; Asun Pié, professor at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences; Llorenç Sabaté, responsible for guaranteeing people with disabilities’ access to information at the UOC; Elsa Santamaria, director of the Master’s Degree in Employment and the Labour Market: Intervention and Coaching for Work Ignacio Tremiño, member of parliament for Valladolid and former director-general for Disability Support Policies at the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (2012–2017); and María Viver, director of the Randstad Foundation.

Employment service for students with disabilities

Along with the Chair, an employment service is also being launched for the UOC community with disabilities. According to the director of the Randstad Foundation in Catalonia, Anna Delclòs, Disability & Jobs, as it is known, is the Chair’s first course of action. It consists of a system in which Randstad professionals support and mentor UOC students and graduates to help improve their employability, further their professional careers and give them access to employment opportunities. “We offer an online diagnostic tool for identifying skills, job offers and opportunities, as well as access to educational resources and funds, such as the Randstad Foundation-UOC grants”, she explained.

Delclòs, who is also the Chair's executive director, stated that this initiative "is an example of the materialization of a chair co-directed by a university and a business foundation such as ours. It is an example of academic value materializing, with an eminently practical focus and a direct impact on the world of business”. With all of this, "we at the Randstad Foundation want to transform the world of work and contribute to a fairer society promoting equal job opportunities. Info Point is a tool that has been created with this mission and purpose in mind", she concluded.

The Chair is the culmination of the good relationship between the two institutions, which started just a little over a year ago, when the UOC received 20,000 euros from the Randstad Foundation to carry out a  study grant scheme for people with disabilities. In fact, in November 2018, a group of these grant-holding students enjoyed public recognition for their work at a ceremony that took place at the University. The first grant bank for students with disabilities gave fourteen awards, including six grants and eight prizes. A second event has already been held since then, with a sum of 16,000 euros, and a third is in the making.

One thousand students with disabilities study at the UOC

Of the 22,190 university students with disabilities in Spain, 1,243 study at the UOC, making it the university with the second largest population of disabled students after the UNED, according to the Guia d’atenció a la discapacitat a la universitat 2018 (Guide to disability assistance at university 2018) by the Universia Foundation.

In a UOC study carried out on this group, in which 421 people participated, 72.45% said that they chose online education because it was compatible with their activities and responsibilities; 85.56% were able to follow their studies and continuous assessment activities without accessibility issues; and 75.77% stated that they had not had any problems in keeping up with the pace of their classmates. To sum up, the UOC guarantees students’ access to all of the tools necessary to complete their studies.

The study was carried out by Elena Barberà and Eulàlia Hernández, from the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, with UOC Planning and Quality.

Two success stories

José Alberto Chamorro is studying for his bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering. Two years ago, while completing a questionnaire on the Statistics course at home, he suffered a seizure and, when in hospital, the doctors discovered a brain tumour on which they were able to intervene in time. "You could say that the UOC's educational model has saved my life. It allows me to study from home, at my own pace and as much as my illness permits. After a year and a half of craniotomies to remove as much of the tumour as possible, radiotherapy sessions and another year of chemotherapy, receiving this award has given me a great boost of energy and enthusiasm”, he acknowledged.

Núria Castellanos is studying for her bachelor's degree in Communication. She used to work in the marketing department of a pharmaceutical company. She liked the job a lot; but when she was told she had to undergo a very aggressive operation for a spinal condition, she realized it would be very difficult to return to work. “At that difficult time, I decided to fulfil my dream of becoming a university student. I studied for a month for the entrance exam for over-25s and I got in. A friend of mine took care of my enrolment while I was still in intensive care. I needed to have projects to make me feel that everything would be okay, and, in September 2012, despite the high doses of medication, I started. Studying meant having an objective to help me through my struggle and to keep my mind occupied”, she said, thinking back.

Chamorro and Castellanos are two of the students that received grants thanks to the Randstad Foundation's and the UOC's first grant programme, which had a budget of 20,000 euros.


The Randstad Foundation

The Randstad Foundation was created in 2004 with the mission of achieving equal employment opportunities through the integration of people at risk of social exclusion in the workplace. It focuses on five specific groups at risk of social and occupational exclusion: people with different abilities, women and men over 45, immigrants with difficulty accessing jobs, women who are victims of domestic violence and single-parent families.

The UOC, an inclusive university

Since its beginnings, the UOC has been committed to the social inclusion of people with disabilities. Therefore, it seeks to provide accessibility for anyone who wants to form part of the various groups in our community (students, temporary lecturers, teaching staff and administration staff). In order to further its commitment to guaranteeing accessibility, the UOC has created the accessibility programme.

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