The education which is provided at universities, colleges, vocational institutes, and institutes of technology is generally termed higher education. The students, after the successful completion of the course, are awarded academic degrees and professional certifications. Higher education not only strengthens the mind but also makes a person capable and bold enough after acquiring knowledge to face the challenges of life. But the students with various kinds of disabilities have to face rough weather when they plan to go for higher education especially in poor and underdeveloped countries. The challenges include the problem of physical access to buildings, curriculum, teaching methods, learning and assessment. Getting higher education becomes a kind of litmus test for these students. As a disabled student, one needs to think about:
- Where to study
- How to get the required support while studying
- Support with day-to-day living
- Financial aspect
UGC’s big initiative
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has thus taken few steps in this direction. In the light of the above needs, the initiatives aim at widening access to higher education to these underrepresented groups.
UGC in its policy decisions recommends all the universities to provide:
- Facilities of cassette recorders for the blind students in universities.
- 3% reservation for the persons with disabilities in the appointment of lecturers.
- Employment of the physically handicapped in the teaching posts
- 3% reservation for persons with disabilities for admission to all courses and 3% reservation in jobs.
- 5% percent relaxation in marks at Master's level for physically handicapped persons for appearing in the NET examination.
- Relaxation in upper age limit (up to 5 years) to persons with disabilities in admission to various courses.
- Directions to all universities to strictly follow the provisions of Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
- There is reduction in examination fees from Rs 450 for non disabled students to Rs 225 for the physically challenged for the NET exams.
- A barrier free environment for the people with special abilities to make them mobile and encourage their independent functioning.
Apart from this the colleges and institutions are instructed to provide a special unit to look after the needs of these students. These units are expected to provide guidance and counselling to the differently-abled students. These units can also work in the direction of assisting these students to get gainful employment when they complete their studies.
Special aids and appliances that are required by the persons with disabilities are also to be made available in the universities. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment provides this facility in the colleges. Devices such as low vision aids, scanners, mobility devices, etc are included in it.
In the scheme of assistance to universities and colleges, UGC has initiated a project of Teacher Preparation in Special Education (TEPSE) and Higher Education for the Persons with Special Needs (HEPSE) .This scheme is expected to be a landmark in providing education to the physically challenged.
UGC’s manifold objectives
The scheme aims to achieve:
- Encouraging universities/colleges to promote teacher preparation programmes in the field of special education.
- Facilitating higher educational facilities to the disabled without discrimination of any kind.
- Creating awareness about the needs of persons with disabilities among the functionaries of higher education.
- Equipping institutions with the facilities to provide access to disabled persons.
- Providing appropriate financial assistance to the individuals with physical challenges to increase their sustainability in higher education.
- Monitoring whether the existing and future legislations and policies concerning the educational needs of the disabled students be properly implemented or not.
The initiative taken by UGC and the governments are quite remarkable in this direction but we still find ourselves to be behind other countries. In times to come we may need many more such positive steps for empowering the people with disabilities with higher education.