Precarious employment and low income often go hand in hand with poor health conditions and/or disabilities (physical / sensorial problems, psychologic disorders). In fact, these adults that choose to invest in education face increased problems. They seek for support, but solutions are scarce. UAb is not included in the Government’s Social Action plan (attributed to face-to-face universities and to students from 18 to 23 years). To avoid students’ discrimination due to financial reasons, UAb has created a subsidy that consists in the reduction or exemption of fees, attributable to students in need (to be requested yearly). Besides, students that have impairments (diagnosed as disabling as 60% or more) can also apply for a governmental subsidy that consists in the payment of fees. In addition, UAb has established protocols with stakeholders, such as “Associação Salvador” (an organization working in the field of motor disability), where fee reductions are considered (in this case it consists of 20%).
Special attention is also paid to specific cases, namely in recent times, during the COVID crises, when lockdowns caused income decreases, unemployment, and also burnout cases. Some of these situations gave rise to debts uncollectible or very difficult to collect, regardless of the debtors’ willingness to regularize the situation. In these cases, each situation is considered and, when possible, very favourable payment plans are established, adapted to the possibilities stated by each student.
In addition to the economic aids provided by the State and by Universidade Aberta, UAb also provides a supplementary framework of support specifically directed to students that face physical, sensory, or cognitive difficulties of access, factors that often aggravate backgrounds of pre-existing economic difficulties. In order to level the access to education, precise measures have been taken. One is aimed at students that need to use screen readers: UAb’s Library has organized a reading community in the institutional repository, that has several accessible digitalized study books made available to students, upon request. Another measure implies stakeholders that have adopted inclusive policies and approaches, and that are strongly motivated to promote inclusion and equity in the labour market. This is the case of a current project of education for labour (entrance in labour market / work reconfiguration) in which Universidade Aberta and EDP1 are collaborating to enhance the social inclusion of students with special needs, and thus preventing further impoverishment. Also worth mentioning is the action of “Projeto Acessibilidades” (Accessibility Project), which is the central element of support for students with special needs, acting both at the level of research and of practical intervention in the field. One of its’ most successful initiatives has been the creation of a space for mutual help in Moodle platform that, despite not being addressed to funding issues, provides emotional and collaborative support, often considered fundamental to face difficulties and to prevent dropouts.