Funka is an academic support system that has students like you in mind. It offers specific services depending on the needs that come with your specific condition, and it aims to help you succeed in your studies.
This programme hits home for me and probably for you as well; in the university back in Mexico where I studied my bachelor’s degree there was special support for students living with different abilities such as vision, mobility and hearing impairments, but none for neuropsychological variations. As a student with ADHD, I can’t help but wonder what my experience would have been like with the right type of support like the one that I’m offered here at Chalmers. Because of this, I talked with Heidi Wåxberg, who works as the coordinator for students with disabilities at Chalmers.
What can you tell us about Funka?
It’s a support system that all universities in Sweden offer and it’s available to all students who have a personal number. The only downside for international master’s students is that they generally have to wait a few weeks to receive their personal numbers to apply for support.
What do you need to do to apply for study support?
The entire application process is done through NAIS (the administration platform used by universities in Sweden that manages these cases). The link to the platform can be found in the Student Portal.
The students need a doctor certificate detailing the student’s functional variations, which they need to upload to the platform along with an explanation of what their particular needs are. These doctor certificates don’t need to be in Swedish; in fact, we prefer that they are written in English so that the student also understands what the certificate says. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to work with certificates written in any other language than Swedish or English; because they are confidential documents, we cannot ask other people to translate.
What can international master’s students do to overcome this wait if support cannot wait?
The waiting time can be a big obstacle if the student is living with a condition such as blindness. Because of this and because the arrangements can be extensive, we urge them to contact us before they arrive to Chalmers so that their support can be managed early on.
What happens after a student applies for support?
We contact them and after about three weeks, we have a meeting (that can be held through Zoom) and discuss the support options that are available to them and the types of support that are recommended for their individual case. As the students generally already know what kind of support they need, this meeting helps us determine the service they will get. After this, we reach a final decision and the recommended support options they will be getting are submitted to NAIS. This information is confidential, and the student isn’t required to show it to anyone.
What support options do you offer?
We offer note-taking support, mentor support, extended time on exams, doing exams on the computer instead of physically, listening to the questions instead of having to read them, sit in smaller groups or private rooms during examinations. After a decision is reached on NAIS, the support is automatic. For example, when a student is given extended examination times, they do not need to notify their examiner themselves as the examiners are automatically notified by the system beforehand.
Is study support only available to people with functional variations?
It’s not! There are some software resources that everyone with a Chalmers ID (CID) can download. The software options include text-to-speech programs, grammar and spelling control, reading aids, among others. Math tutoring, writing tutoring, and help with information search for a paper or dissertation writing and publishing, are also some of the support options offered to the general student population. I think it’s important that all students know that these resources are available to them and that they can make free use of them.
Awesome! And going back to the disability support, how many Chalmers students are benefitting today from the program?
In Chalmers there are about 500 students right now, and about 25 or 30 are international students. There are even some Ph.D. students who benefit from this service.
Do you have any success stories that you’d like to share?
I have so many! But one that stands out to me is a student whom I met about five years ago. During the first meeting we had, this student wasn’t able to even look me in the eye once. Their recommended support ended up being note-taking support and extended time in examinations, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it would be enough to help them. It ended up being a complete success! Within one year, the student was participating in social events with their student mentor. They have since finished their degree and have a nice job in a great company. We don’t think about this, but many of the apps, for example, that we use every day (Spotify, Google, etc.) are being developed by talented people who have these different abilities and neuropsychological variations, so we should help more and more of these students to have a successful experience so they can reach their full potential.
For clarity, what sort of neuropsychological variations are supported in Funka?
There is a very wide arrange of conditions that are supported in the system: some of them have rheumatism, hearing and vision impairments, or neuropsychological disorders such as dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, Tourette’s, Asperger’s, and other conditions within the autistic spectrum, among other affections. This system is not only offered at Chalmers: it’s supported nationwide.
How does the mentorship programme work?
Mentors are Chalmers students who help these students with different abilities with homework tutoring, organization, among other things. As a teacher myself, this is one of my favorite parts of working with Funka, because I get to interact and train these students to become great mentors.
Who can become a mentor?
Everyone can apply to be a mentor, even students who receive support from Funka. Actually, the student I talked about before, the success story, became a mentor afterwards. I think it’s good to have these experiences regardless of who you are.
I believe that this service has great potential for students like you and me who have different needs in order to navigate graduate school. In fact, after hearing just how great it is, I signed up for it myself in time for my master thesis. It’s very easy to apply: I got a certificate from my doctor, introduced my information and the “aspects” I think I need support with (like sticking to a schedule, working with deadlines, or planning my activities). After a few weeks I had a meeting with Heidi where we discussed what type of support can help me the best. I’m happy I did it, because now I only get to stress out about all the right things and set those extra-worries aside.