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International Master's Degree Programme
in Behavioural and Social Sciences

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University of Groningen, The Netherland
Visual Impairment: Assessment and Support
For professionals in the education, care and rehabilitation of people with visual impairment and people with intellectual and visual impairment

How can professionals provide good support to people with visual impairment if their expertise in low vision and its consequences for daily life is limited and not up to date? There is more to visual functioning than acuity and visual field, although many organizations use a definition of low vision that is mainly based on these two concepts. What is impairment in contrast sensitivity and light adaptation? What is cerebral visual impairment (CVI), neuropsychological assessment of higher visual functions and simultanagnosia? How does visual impairment develop in a progressive disease in the retina or in the brain? What are the effects on social contact in daily life if you cannot distinguish faces or facial expressions?
In many countries CVI is now recognized as the most common cause of visual impairment in children. In addition, an increasing percentage of the elderly have problems with visual processing caused by acquired brain damage. Special groups of clients have additional needs, for instance people with intellectual impairment and ocular or cerebral visual impairment. This is a substantial group, where a lack of knowledge often has strong negative effects on the quality of life. How can we give them the right support? Special programmes must be developed for this group.
Vision is one of the body's most complex functions and many disciplines are involved with vision science. Support for people with visual impairment requires an interdisciplinary approach. Up-to-date knowledge and new developments in vision research should be part of daily practice. Research findings need to be translated to practice, aiming at smart solutions for daily-life problems. Organizations need professionals with interdisciplinary expertise in vision and visual impairment - professionals with the skills to translate interdisciplinary knowledge into adequate support for the rehabilitation, education and care of people with visual impairment.

The ICEVI-Europe (International Council for Education and Rehabilitation of People with Visual Impairment) has recognized the need for such professional training in many organizations in various countries. In 2006, it started looking for partners for professional and research-based training programmes. In 2010, cooperation was begun in the Netherlands with Royal Dutch Visio, Centre of Expertise for blind and partially sighted people, the University of Groningen, Department of Special Needs Education & Youth Care, and the Research Centre on Profound and Multiple Disabilities. As a result, the University of Groningen is now planning to start an International Master's Degree in Behavioural and Social Sciences "Visual Impairment: Assessment and Support for professionals supporting people with visual impairment as well as people with a visual and (profound) intellectual impairment". The mission of this Master's degree programme is to train our students in qualitative and quantitative research, aimed at improving the participation of children and adults with visual impairment and the combination of intellectual and visual impairment. The Master's programme takes an interdisciplinary approach to ocular impairment as well as cerebral visual impairment. In its interdisciplinary approach, this Master of Science degree programme is the first in the world to be based on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health of the World Health Organization and the support model of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities .

The interdisciplinary approach to the support of people with visual impairment in the degree programme is an integration of the ophthalmological, optometric, neurological, neuropsychological, ecological and developmental approaches, and uses the ICF and AAIDD for an interdisciplinary support diagnosis. Applying and adapting the WHO-ICF in rehabilitation, care and education of people with visual impairment in such a way is known as the method Visual Profile.
The ophthalmological and optometric approach to visual impairment is aimed at the ophthalmological diseases or disorders, the anatomical structures of the eyes and ocular muscles of the visual system and particularly the coherence with the lower visual functions (= oculomotor and visual sensory functions). The neurological and neuropsychological approach to visual impairment entails studying neurological diseases and disorders, the anatomical structures of the visual system involving nerves, tracts and brain and the coherence with the higher visual functions (= visual perceptual-cognitive and visual motor functions). The ecological approach to daily life of persons with visual impairment aims to achieve coherence between the lower and higher visual functions and environmental factors, self-sufficiency in (visual) activities and participation.
The developmental approach to persons with visual and intellectual impairment is a combination of a pedagogical approach (the influence of visual impairment on the education and development of children and the subjective meaning of visual impairment in their lives) and a transactional approach (the influence of visual impairment on the interactions with parents, siblings, other family members, teachers, partners, attitudes in society, etc.).

For the Master's thesis, students may choose their own research topics in the field of support in the rehabilitation, care or education of the organization and population of clients.

After completing the programme, students will be awarded a Master's degree in Educational Sciences and be well trained and qualified to work as researchers in the field of people with visual impairment or people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and visual impairment. All degrees awarded are accredited by the Dutch government and are internationally acknowledged. The University of Groningen was the first Dutch higher education institution to be granted the ECTS Label and the Diploma Supplement Label by the European Commission, Council of Europe and UNESCO/CEPES. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is the EU standardized system for measuring student workload as a way to facilitate international mobility. The programme of this International Master of Science is recognized and certified by LEVRETA (Leonardo European Vision Rehabilitation and Education Training Association). After successful completion of the ICF course unit, students will also receive an ICF certificate from the WHO Collaborating Centre for the Family of International Classifications (WHO-FIC) in the Netherlands.

Programme content

The Master's degree programme comprises a single compulsory programme, divided into 10 course units, where each subsequent course unit builds on the previous ones and contributes to the final Master's thesis. The total programme comprises 60 ECTS credit points (one year): 25 ECTS - Theories and models about human functioning, personal and human rights, participation, disabilities and support (see below, parts 1-3); 30 ECTS - Master's project research and thesis; 5 ECTS - Reflective essay.
Five parts of the programme must be followed in Groningen (the Netherlands). In addition to these, students will carry out independent study in their own countries and organizations, conduct research for their thesis (Master's project) and write a reflective essay about the link between their research and theories and models.
The first 3 parts comprise the 9 course units of this Master's programme. Course unit 1 is worth 1 ECTS (28 hours of class work), course units 2 - 9 are worth 3 ECTS each (24 hours of class work and c. 300 pages of literature). Each course unit will start with lectures about the main theoretical concepts and presentations on research and PhD projects, followed by independent study, presentations by the students about articles, essays and an examination.

Part 1 is a theoretical introduction. The first course unit comprises the introduction to this Master's programme. The second course unit is on theories and models about human functioning: ICF and AAIDD, personal and human rights, participation, disabilities and support. The third course unit is about the application of the models to research, interdisciplinary support diagnosis and practical support for clients with visual impairment only or with intellectual and visual impairment.

Part 2 focuses on detailed knowledge within the models. The fourth course unit is about the visual, sensory and cognitive systems. The fifth course unit is about activities, adaptive behaviour and participation. The sixth course unit is about environmental factors, personal factors and support.

Part 3 is aimed at the application of all this knowledge to rehabilitation (course unit seven), care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and visual impairment (course unit eight) and inclusive education (course unit nine).

At the end of each of the course units 2 - 9 there will be a workgroup discussion lasting 2 hours (course unit 10), about which elements of the theoretical framework of that course unit will be useful in each student's thesis. For instance, with questions like What is your subgroup of clients? What are the participation needs of these clients? What is your main practical problem in reaching optimal participation? How can you describe this problem within the framework of the ICF and/or AAIDD concepts? Will the more detailed information in the next course units reveal possibilities for translating practical problems into a research question? Which other theories and models are important for your research? What are the related positive, compensatory and negative variables for the optimal participation of your client(s)? What is your specific research question? What is your design? With which tutor do you want to do your research?

The thesis (30 ECTS) must be written in the form of an article (for a scientific journal in accordance with APA standards). To complete the programme students must link the results of their Master's project to the theories and models in a reflective essay (5 ECTS) with an outline of further steps in this research.

Part 4 will take place at the end of March and is an action learning group for feedback on all the research projects conducted in the own countries and organizations. The thesis and the reflective essay must be submitted by the end of June.

Part 5 is the presentation of all the results in August/September, to be followed by the Master's degree ceremony.

Coordination of the course units / tutors / guest speakers:

  • Dr. R. Cziker, Liceul pentru Deficienti de Vedere, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
  • Dr. J. Heutink, neuropsychologist Royal Dutch Visio and University of Groningen, Psychology (course unit 7)
  • Dr. M. de Kleijn - de Vrankrijker, Head WHO-FIC Collaborating Centre in the Netherlands (course unit 2)
  • Prof. A. Kooijman (Laboratory of Experimental Ophthalmology, University of Groningen) (course unit 6)
  • Dr. P. Looijestijn, child-psychologist, Royal Dutch Visio and Special Needs Education & Youth Care, University of Groningen (course unit 1 and 3)
  • Dr. H. Schuman (Fontys, University of Applied Sciences, Tilburg, The Netherlands) (course unit 9)
  • Dr. H. van der Steen, Department of Neuroscience; Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam (course unit 4)
  • Prof. C. Vlaskamp, Rearing and support of persons with PIMD; Research Centre on Profound and Multiple Disabilities (PMD). University of Groningen (course unit 8)
  • Drs. J.A. Welling; chairman ICEVI-Europe
  • Dr. S. Zuidhoek, neuropsychologist Royal Dutch Visio (course unit 1 and 5)
  • And many other persons

Key facts of the programme

Start: September (2011 if feasible)
Duration: 12 months
Language: English
Degree: MSc in Educational Sciences

Admission requirements

  • A relevant Bachelor's or Master's degree
  • Sufficient knowledge of methodology
  • English language requirement: TOEFL 580 or IELTS 6.5.
  • A letter of motivation and an outline of the problem to serve as the basis of the Master's thesis
  • All applications are subject to an academic assessment by the Admissions Board
  • Recommendation: 5 years of professional experience in the care, education or rehabilitation of people with visual impairment or people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Fees and facilities

The current tuition fees for EU students and Dutch students (first Master's programme) are the official Dutch fees for higher education, which is approximately EUR 1700. For non-EU participants and Dutch students (second Master's programme) the tuition fees are approximately EUR 9600. According to Dutch taxation regulations concerning education, these fees are tax-exempt. Fees must be paid in full before the start of the first course unit. Tuition does not include travel and accommodation costs, living expenses, books and/or other expenses.

Application period now open. Applications for admission should be submitted as soon as possible.

Detailed information and application forms are available at the addresses below and on the university websites

International Master of Science in Behavioural and Social Sciences

International Master's Degree Programme in Behavioural and Social Sciences
Visual Impairment: Assessment and Support
Grote Rozenstraat 38
9712 TJ Groningen
The Netherlands
Academic advisor:
Ms Alette Arendshorst
T + 31 50 363 63 70, F + 31 50 363 65 64
e-mail: a.m.arendshorst at rug.nl
Curriculum coordinator:
Dr. Paul Looijestijn
T + 31 50 363 65 87
e-mail: p.l.looijestijn at rug.nl
Course director:
Prof. C. Vlaskamp, Rearing and support of persons with PIMD;
Research Centre on Profound and Multiple Disabilities (PMD). University of Groningen
Groningen University website:
www.rug.nl/internationalstudents (useful addresses)
International Service Desk:
Language courses:

Additional information:

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