Background information

The onset of mental illness generally occurs between the ages of 17 and 25 – the years in which young adults  follow higher education (including advanced vocational education), which is a major channel in our society to  prepare for a career and enhance life goals. But for people with psychiatric disabilities, this resource is largely unavailable.

Although people with psychiatric disabilities often attempt higher education, they are frequently unable to complete their studies because of the nature of their illness and its treatment (see Broenink & Gorter, 2001). They often meet with overwhelming obstacles, including stigmatization and discrimination. In an economy that requires (higher) education for  upward occupational mobility, people who are unable to succeed in postsecondary/higher education or training may find themselves ultimately underemployed or unemployed. From reports like ‘Rapportage Gehandicapten’ (De Klerk, 2000) it clearly shows that labour participation of people with (psychiatric) disabilities is considerably lower than that of other people.

The relation between psychiatric disabilities and premature school leaving, and its impact, is recognized by the OECD in its reports Lifelong learning for all (Paris, 1996) and Overcoming exclusion through adult learning (Paris 1999). This view is supported by several other studies: Kessler et al, 1994; Sell & Robson, 1998; Stewart-Brown et al, 2000; Surtees et al, 2000; Webb et al, 1996,), and referred to in studies based upon the Studentenmonitor of the Ministry of Education of the Netherlands.

For other disability groups, such as people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or acquired brain injury, student services are available on most campuses, while people with psychiatric disabilities have not been included in these services, also because student services staff have limited knowledge about this.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for the social inclusion and future (labour) opportunities of young adults with psychiatric disabilities (1) to have better access to higher education, and (2) to be able to complete such a study succesfully. The proposed project will contribute to ‘empower’ these young adults to do so.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

European and UN policies
In 2010, the European Commission stated that: As full citizens, people with disabilities have equal rights and are entitled to dignity, equal treatment, independent living and full participation in society. Enabling people with disabilities to enjoy these rights is the main purpose of the EU’s long-term strategy for their active inclusion (

The project fits with the Disability Action Plan, adopted by the EU, fostering, a.o. equal access to quality education and lifelong learning enable disabled people to participate fully in society and improve their quality of life. And also fostering accessibility to the labour market.

It is also in line with the view held by the World Health Organization. In May 2005, the 58th World Health Assembly approved a Resolution on “Disability, including prevention, management and rehabilitation” that calls upon Member States to strengthen implementation of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities; promote the rights and dignity of people with disabilities to ensure their full inclusion in society; promote and strengthen community-based rehabilitation programs; and include a disability component in their health policies and programs”.

National policies
In the Netherlands, a commission was formed (Commissie Maatstaf, 2010) to look into the accessibility and ‘do ability’ of (higher) education for students with disabilities. The commission has formulated measures and improvements. Also in 2010, the national Inspectorate of Education has formulated requirements for the level of support services for students with disabilities. Based on this, the requirements for such services are now part of the accreditation assessment of the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Agency (NVAO), and, therefore, a necessary condition for achieving accreditation for university study programmes.

Recently, the Council of the European Union made reducing early school leaving from 14,4% (mean of all EU countries)  to less than 10% by 2020 a headline target in the Europe 2020 strategy (Council of the European Union, 2011). Reducing early school leaving: Commission Staff Working Paper. People with psychiatric disabilities are one of the main ‘risk groups’ in early school leaving.

The Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport formulated in 2001 a National Programme for the Development of Education. It wishes to combat the increasing number of pupils with learning difficulties, one of the means being the improvement of counselling and guidance system has to play a more significant role than it has to date. It also introduced the “Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme” for the period of 2007-2013 at the field of equal opportunities.

Portugal also advocates a policy opened to diversity and inclusive of other practices. Also the increasing of educational levels of people has been a priority since the Program’s creation.

Policy of the partners and previous experiences
HG  has an active policy on supporting students with psychiatric disabilities, as part of a broader policy in diversity. Various (sub) projects have been executed under the national project Impuls (2004). Brochures and websites have been published to support students. Also, training courses for such students have been developed and are offered now by the Hanze Succes Centre, offering guidance and counselling to students, as mentioned before.

The Research and Innovation Centre for Rehabilitation has played an important role in all this. It has also been leading in research at national level. Together with Rahabilitatie ’92 (Utrecht), the Research and Innovation Centre for Rehabilitation has established the Centre of Expertise for Supported Education. This Centre is involved in research, training and consultancy in the field of Supported Education:

HG has published an internal policy paper on supporting students with (psychiatric) disabilities in 2011, describing measure taken and further plans.

For Ledovec , the project fits with its policy to improve/adjust the concept of Supported Education, and to spread it further over the Czech Republic.

For AEIPS the project will contribute to its policy of furthering the development of the Supported Education Program, by way of introduction some new approaches and through the sharing of best practices from all participant partners.  The same applies to SiB.