Ensure inclusivity in higher education

From Nadhir Abdul Nasir

Recently, higher education minister Khaled Nordin put forward 11 focus areas based on the goal of restoring trust in the country’s higher education system.

The higher education ministry must rebuild confidence among the general public, especially among marginalised groups such as the disabled community, in the local higher education system.

We, the disabled community, must be assured that the ministry will create a higher education system that is inclusive and responsive to the issues, needs and voices of disabled persons. Disabled persons are also part of the higher learning environment as students and staff in both public and private higher learning institutions.

Though having an efficient and excellent higher education sector is admirable, aspects such as accessibility, equity and inclusivity are also crucial to create a humanised, sustainable and quality higher education environment. Thus, the ministry, through its 11 focus areas, must inclusively and meaningfully engage the people, including disabled students and staff.

I welcome the idea of establishing a national review committee. However, I urge that this committee also review the current status of disabled persons’ overall inclusion in the higher education system. In this regard, the committee can organise a series of workshops with the disabled community and consult disabled experts as well as other stakeholders.

Furthermore, the ministry must take the following action to ensure the three elements that I mentioned are meaningfully realised:

1. Develop and adopt an inclusive higher education policy. The ministry can either develop one single comprehensive higher education policy that also consists of specific chapters and sub-chapters concerning the affairs, needs and welfare of disabled students and staff, or develop a specific policy concerning the affairs, needs and welfare of disabled students and staff in the higher education system.

2. Develop, implement, coordinate and monitor a strategic framework or action plan to actualise the goals and provisions contained in the inclusive higher education policy that come with sufficient funding.

3. Establish a division on the affairs and inclusion of disabled persons in higher education. This division can be established under the office of the higher education secretary-general, or as part of the new performance management and coordination body as proposed by the minister recently.

4. Codify all existing laws relating to higher education into one single comprehensive legislation that has a specific chapter concerning the affairs, needs and welfare of disabled students and disabled staff in the higher education system.

5. Study and develop higher education regulations on certain strategic issues that meaningfully affect the inclusion of disabled persons in the higher education system, such as inclusive teaching and learning, inclusive recruitment and reasonable accommodation in the workplace, and so forth.

6. Make a serious investment in creating accessible physical and digital infrastructure in the higher education environment by adopting the universal design philosophy, web content accessibility guideline (WCAG) and other accessibility standards.

7. Replace the current financial aid for disabled persons (BKOKU) with a full scholarship programme for all disabled students at all levels of studies. The amount and scope of coverage must be according to the needs of disabled students at different levels, taking into account the need for flexibility and other exigent circumstances.

Many other issues facing disabled persons require the utmost attention from the minister and his administration. Those include the inclusion of disabled persons in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Plus, more data and research is needed to support the above-mentioned measures.

Therefore, the ministry must engage with disabled experts, activists, students and their representative organisations to efficiently and systematically achieve all the goals.


Nadhir Abdul Nasir is a blind person who works as an independent consultant and researcher specialising in disability issues.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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