Five-year higher education disability strategy approved
“If properly implemented, the higher education disability strategy will be critical … to accommodate the reasonable academic needs of students with disabilities,” said Hisham Elser, a blind Sudanese researcher based at the Institute of Disabilities Sciences at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. He is also executive vice-president of the Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education of the Disabled in Sudan.
Echoing these sentiments, Deanne Clouder, academic director at the Centre for Global Learning, Education and Attainment at Coventry University in the United Kingdom, told University World News that “the new strategic plan to ensure access for people with disabilities to higher education is a massive move forward for equity and fairness in Sudan”.
“It is particularly good that the strategy includes increasing access for those with mental health issues, as this is a growing concern internationally,” said Clouder, also the lead author of a 2018 report on disabilities among North African students.
The five-year strategy was outlined by the head of the Sudanese Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR), Sumaya Abu Kashwa, at a workshop entitled “Empowerment of persons with disabilities”, organised by the Scientific Research and Innovation Authority of the MHESR on 9 September, according to the ministry’s Facebook page. This coincided with the Sudanese declaration of 2018 as the Year of Persons with Disabilities.
The Sudanese report presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva, Switzerland, in February revealed that about two million Sudanese are disabled, comprising about 5% of the 41.5 million population. The most common form is blindness (31%), followed by mental disability (24%).
The lack of educational opportunities for young disabled Sudanese extends to schooling. The World Report on Disability discovered that 38% of people with a disability aged over six were enrolled at school, 15% had attended it at some point, while 41% had never been schooled.
A 2017 presentation, “Assessment of the university environment for students with disabilities in public universities in Sudan”, pointed out that these institutions were not “disability-friendly” places, as they lacked specialised educational programmes, academic activities, practices, procedures and resources, and technological aids.
Thus, university policies were in desperate need of reform in order to provide an institution free of barriers and a suitable academic environment, as highlighted in a 2016 report, “Evaluating the learning setting and identifying the study needs for students with visual impairment at the University of Khartoum in Sudan”, for which Elser was the lead researcher.
The new strategy aims to create a higher education environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Its commitments were:
- • Enforcing the building code to facilitate easy access;
- • Introducing techniques supporting education and learning;
- • Supporting scientific research programmes about disability;
- • Provision of funding;
- • Promoting research on completion rates of students with disabilities; and
- • Gathering statistical data on disabilities.
Tahir Obeid, professor of neurology at the University of Medical Sciences and Technology in Khartoum, Sudan, welcomed the plan, but told University World News that its implementation would “be difficult”, due to: limited financial resources; shortage of disability experts; lack of current statistical data; poor disabled root causes analysis; few studies on disabled students; and lack of awareness-raising campaigns to change negative perceptions and discriminatory practices.
“Most higher education institutions in Sudan are private and their main purpose is profit. They are structured for healthy students and not for the disabled, poor socio-economic classes – and the same applies to state universities,” he added.
In Sudan, there are 30 public universities, 13 private universities and 60 colleges, according to a 2016 MHESR report.
Elser said that in order to “transfer this strategy from theoretical framework to practice, specialised offices and units for students with disabilities must be established at all Sudanese universities”. These would provide guidance, supervision and advice to university units regarding teaching and services for students with disabilities. He highlighted the need for communication between the higher education authority and the specialised units.
Coventry University’s Clouder said the plan was ambitious but achievable if there was “buy-in from political and institutional leaders, as well as academic and professional services staff, but perhaps, most importantly, from the students themselves, who need to … invoke change.”