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  • Alarming disparities in access to higher education for students with disabilities: NCPEDP-Bajaj Finserv Research Study

    Published on March 28, 2024

     New Delhi : The landscape of higher education for students with disabilities in India has long been shrouded in obscurity, with limited data and awareness hindering progress. However, a recent study conducted under the NCPEDP-Bajaj Finserv Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities has brought to light a sobering reality: the pervasive challenges confronting these students in their pursuit of education.

    Only 3 out of 10 students with disabilities opt for professional courses while only one out of 10 girls with disabilities are currently enrolled in professional courses including STEM courses. The survey has been conducted across four states (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Maharashtra) and one UT (Delhi) covering both central and state-level universities.

    “Despite the powerful provision under Section 16 of the RPWD Act and the provisions under the National Education Policy addressing the education of students with disabilities, it remains a distant dream for many. Accessing the fundamental right to education for students with disabilities remains a perpetuating struggle” said Arman Ali, Executive Director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).

    The Study finds that enrolment disparities persist despite legislative provisions under the RPWD Act 2016. The study paints a stark picture of gender disparities, with female students comprising only a fraction of enrolled students with disabilities. This underrepresentation, coupled with a noticeable lack of participation in professional courses, highlights systemic barriers that continue to impede the educational aspirations of students with disabilities.

    The survey reflects that 20% of students with disabilities have experienced sexual harassment in buses and local trains while commuting to their higher education institutions regularly irrespective of the gender of students with disabilities

    Beyond enrolment challenges, accessibility remains a pervasive issue across higher education institutions. The study reveals a concerning dearth of functional enabling units, mandated by the UGC, exacerbating the hurdles faced by students with disabilities. Safety concerns further compound the challenges, with incidents of harassment during commute posing significant risks to students' well-being and academic pursuits.

    Furthermore, access to assistive devices and technological resources emerges as a pressing concern, finds the study. A substantial proportion of students report a lack of access to essential tools vital for their educational needs. The transition to online application processes presents significant challenges, further widening the accessibility gap for students with disabilities.

    “Despite UGC and AICTE guidelines, 58% of students with disabilities lack access to necessary technological and assistive devices in universities. Additionally, 69% of state and private university students are unaware of accessible online platforms or e-learning resources.

    The online application process received mixed responses, with 68% facing difficulties due to lack of access to devices and inaccessible formats,” it says.

    Outlining a set of recommendations, the Study highlights the need to step up efforts towards effective enforcement of the RPWD Act 2016, coupled with enhanced partnerships between government, private entities, and civil society, which are imperative to address the systemic barriers hindering inclusive education. To enhance access to girls in STEM programs, local panchayats and civil society organisations should collaborate for enrolment drives. It also calls for enhancing budgetary allocation as well as capacity building of other stakeholders.

    “The findings of this study serve as a clarion call for concerted efforts towards encouraging a more inclusive higher education landscape in India. By highlighting accessibility, data-driven policymaking, and collaborative action, stakeholders can pave the way for a brighter and more equitable future for students with disabilities,” adds Ali.

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