University of Helsinki: Sisu accessibility improving step by step

Problems related to the accessibility of Sisu, the new student information system of the University of Helsinki, emerged in spring 2021. A complaint concerning accessibility deficiencies was submitted to the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, which reprimanded (article in Finnish only) the University of Helsinki for serious deficiencies in Sisu’s accessibility.

As stated in the University of Helsinki Equality and Diversity Plan, the University is committed to promoting equality and preventing discrimination in all its operations. Continuous efforts are being made to realise accessibility and equality. In the case of Sisu, development focus areas and timetables are agreed together with Funidata Oy, the company responsible for the system. At the moment, the focus is on Sisu’s accessibility, especially with regard to the student user interface.

Users are not yet seeing all effort put into Sisu
In the summer and autumn of 2021, a number of individual accessibility fixes have been carried out. Some of them are already operational, but some will only be activated in conjunction with the next update in January 2022 or subsequent updates.

Development efforts encompassing entire windows and functionalities have remained partially invisible to users, as redesigning and implementing improvements takes a lot of time in software development. Currently under development are, for example, the course search page for students and new features related to the Open University, taking accessibility into consideration from the start. In addition, an external accessibility specialist has assessed the accessibility of Sisu and commented on improvement needs related to the search page and study plan section of the student interface, as well as currently active plans pertaining to the user interface. New staff have also been recruited to speed up the implementation of fixes.

You can read more about all of the completed measures and plans in a Funidata blog entry (in Finnish only).

The University offers individual support to ensure the smooth progress of studies
The University of Helsinki is providing individual support to students in need of it. What this means in practice is that the student and an accessibility liaison collaboratively survey what the student needs to ensure the smooth progress of their studies. For this purpose, the University has accessibility liaisons on all four campuses.

Student Services desks and accessibility liaisons are also prepared to provide assistance in using Sisu. Among other circumstances, individual support is often needed in moving about University premises, using aids and extending the duration of examinations.

“Our goal is for students to not consider support an unreasonable inconvenience. Instead, we will together identify a suitably practicable way of studying and managing their academic affairs,” says Kati Kettunen, director of Services for Teaching and Learning Environments.

Information on Sisu
Last May, the University of Helsinki deployed a new academic administration system called Sisu, or the Student Information System for Finnish Universities. In Sisu, students can plan their studies, register for instruction and submit a range of forms related to academic administration, including those for the recognition of prior learning. Teachers can see their teaching and supervision groups in Sisu, in addition to which they can record courses completed by their students. Sisu also enhances the work processes of academic administration and services at several stages.

Sisu is already in use at six Finnish higher education institutions and supports the teaching collaboration among them. Sisu features are continuously being developed to better serve different users.

Sisu is an extremely extensive entity:
The data transferred to Sisu encompassed approximately 10 million completed credits, 2.3 million study rights and 450,000 people.
Between June and December 2021, more than 140,000 courses and 600,000 credits were recorded as completed in Sisu at the University of Helsinki. The number of new graduates in the same period was roughly 4,100.

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