GOMBAK: All public higher education institutions (IPTAs) must become completely disabled-friendly within the next decade, says Dr Maszlee Malik.
The Education Minister said this was part of the guidelines for the OKU (Disabled) Inclusion in Higher Education Institutions Policy that was implemented in January.
"We do not want anymore cases where students who fulfil course requirements are not accepted by higher education institutions because they are disabled, as there are no facilities to cater to them," he said during the launch of the guidelines Thursday (Sept 5) at the International Islamic University (IIUM).
"The reason for this inclusive education policy is to eliminate the separation of OKU students from other students," he added.
Maszlee said the policy must be implemented by IPTAs over the next 10 years through short, medium and long-term plans that are comprehensive, practical and realistic.
He added that Malaysia is capable of forming an inclusive culture in education that does not sideline the OKU community.
Access for the OKU to education will be done radically across the country, he said, adding that he hoped to tie the policy with the 12th Malaysia Plan.
Maszlee said it was everyone's responsibility, not just the ministry's, to ensure the OKU community's rights are always protected.
This year, Maszlee said, a special entrance stream into IPTAs was created for OKU, B40, athletes and Orang Asli.
The ministry, he added, has already implemented a Zero-Reject Policy in national schools so that no child is denied their right to education.
"The OKU Inclusion in Higher Education Institutions Policy will be carried out and given priority at all higher education institutions to ensure facilities and continuous education support systems can be given to OKU students," he said.
He said among the points touched on in the guidelines are barriers in the system that discriminate against the OKU.
An example Maszlee gave is the maximum graduation period which needs to be extended for OKU as most of them need more time to complete their studies and carry out research.
Study materials that specifically cater to those who are visually-impaired, deaf or have different learning abilities should also be provided, he said.
Infrastructure needs to be upgraded so that the community can access the facilities at the institutions.
He gave examples on the lack of ramps, lifts and narrow toilets that all need to be looked into.
Maszlee acknowledged that the ministry does not have the funds to do all these upgrades and changes.
As of now, he added, higher education institutions are using their own funds to carry out the changes.
He urged the private sector to step forward and help fund the changes needed for the benefit of the OKU community.
Maszlee said the guidelines state that all IPTA must use the policy and establish an OKU Services Unit that is separate from the Students Affairs Unit.
The OKU Services Unit will cater not just to OKU students but staff as well, he said, adding that he hopes the new unit will be placed under the vice-chancellor's office.
Although it is not compulsory for private higher education institutions (IPTS) to follow the guidelines, Maszlee hopes they will also adopt it to increase accessibility to education for the OKU community.
So far, he added, Universiti Malaya (UM), IIUM and Universiti Sains Malaysia have implemented the policy while the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is one of the IPTS using the policy.
IIUM rector Prof Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak said providing OKU with the necessary support will give them access to quality education, ultimately developing both themselves and society.
"IIUM gives special attention to its OKU staff and students with its IIUM Disability Inclusion Policy," he said.
Prof Dzulkifli said IIUM had faced some financial challenges to upgrade the institution into an OKU-friendly campus, adding that it was done in stages to ensure universal access to the facilities for the students.