We, the undersigned student organisations, demand that Funidata take measures to invest more resources into fixing the accessibility issues in the study information system Sisu. The user experiences of students with vision impairment, the response of the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland to a complaint about the system, and the statement from the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman all demonstrate that the current level of accessibility of the Sisu system is completely inadequate, putting students on an unequal footing.
Sisu is a study information system for students, teachers, and academic administration that has been adopted by seven higher education institutions. Currently, the Sisu information system is used by Aalto University, University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä, LUT University, and, most extensively, in Tampere University. The system will also be introduced in Arcada University of Applied Sciences and Hanken Svenska Handelshögskolan. These higher education institutions own Funidata Oy, the company responsible for delivering and developing the Sisu system.
As required by the Act on the Provision of Digital Services, the system’s accessibility statement reveals all the accessibility issues with the system. The accessibility statement makes for appalling reading: the system contains severe accessibility issues, some of which are not anticipated to be fixed until 2023. In October 2020, the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland received a complaint about the system’s accessibility issues in the University of Helsinki. Based on this, the Regional State Administrative Agency issued a warning to the University of Helsinki last June. According to the Regional State Administrative Agency, there are not sufficient grounds for this timeframe, and the accessibility issues must be fixed without delay.
“It’s a good thing that both the Regional State Administrative Agency and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman have taken a strong stand on the system’s accessibility issues and the timeframe for addressing them. The warning issued to the University of Helsinki goes to show that the accessibility of digital services must be taken seriously and that postponing the fixing of accessibility issues has real consequences,” says Jessika Isomeri, Chair of the Board of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki.
The current accessibility issues make the Sisu system almost impossible to use for a student with vision impairment. We, the undersigned student organisations, cannot allow this situation to go on. We insist that Funidata invest resources into fixing the accessibility issues in the Sisu system without delay. “Many universities have been aware of the system’s accessibility issues and other usability-related issues for a long time. In Jyväskylä, several issues with the Sisu system were already acknowledged two years ago, but not all of them have been fixed yet.” says Petri Laaksonen, Chair of the Board of the Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä.
Following the Regional State Administrative Agency’s decision, Funidata wrote that the company and the universities that own it are aware that the system’s level of accessibility is not satisfactory, and that the system will be developed further. The long timeframe for addressing the system’s accessibility issues has been explained by the fact that Funidata has had to allocate resources to other development efforts first. We, the undersigned student organisations, find it a good thing that the system is developed further to meet the needs and requests of the shareholder universities, but such development efforts should not stand in the way of addressing the accessibility issues. In their statement about the Sisu system, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman states that other tasks may not be prioritised over legal requirements and that Funidata should, if necessary, allocate more resources to ensure the system’s accessibility.
We also insist that the universities that are Funidata’s shareholders should provide support to students affected by the system’s accessibility issues if such support has not been provided yet. These support services should be easily accessible to students, and students should also be able to manage matters related to their studies outside the universities’ office hours. The universities must emphasise accessibility in their development requests. “All students deserve an accessible and functional study information system that enables them to manage their studies independently and supports their studies instead of hindering them. As the shareholders of Funidata, the universities have an important role in determining what the timeframe and resources are for addressing the system’s accessibility issues,” says Iiris Taubert, Chair of the Board of the Student Union of Tampere University.
At best, Sisu could be a tool to make the job of students and staff easier with integrated study planning, course enrolment, and course evaluation, providing support for the entire duration of studies. Through extensive higher education cooperation, the Sisu system could also enable unique, multi-disciplinary study paths for all students. Before these goals can become a reality, however, the system must be made usable and accessible to all users.
Milja Leinonen, Chair of the Board, Aalto University Student Union
Jessika Isomeri, Chair of the Board, Student Union of the University of Helsinki
Petri Laaksonen, Chair of the Board, Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä
Anniina Pokki, Chair of the Board, Student Union of LUT University
Iiris Taubert, Chair of the Board, Student Union of Tampere University
Aalto University Student Union: Teemu Palkki, Policy Specialist (Academic Affairs), email@example.com
Student Union of the University of Helsinki: Marianna Suokas, Specialist in Higher Education Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä: Petri Laaksonen, Chair, email@example.com
Student Union of LUT University: Tiia Kettunen, Advocacy Expert, firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Union of Tampere University: Saana Hytönen, Specialist in Communications and Advocacy, email@example.com