Children from the lowest income backgrounds in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset perform worse than their peers elsewhere

A new partnership between education experts in Indonesia and the UK could transform lives by changing perceptions of disability.

Researchers in both countries have joined together to explore how attitudes impact on disabled students’ access to support and their time in higher education. They hope this will lead to improved support being available.

As part of the study students with disabilities and those who teach and support them will be able to share their experiences.

The number of students enrolling in higher education has increased over the past three decades in Indonesia and England. However the number of students with disabilities entering and graduating in Indonesia remains very low and not reliably recorded. It is a legal requirement that national and local governments provide accessible and inclusive education up to tertiary level; yet inequalities endure. There are currently no government guidelines for supporting students, leading to inconsistent levels of assistance and a barrier to access.

In England around 15 per cent of students declared a disability in 2020-21 and they are eligible for financial support and protection from government regulation through the Office for Students (OfS), and ‘reasonable adjustments’ to pedagogy, curricula and assessment. But there are inconsistencies in levels of support across universities.

The project, funded by the British Academy, will be run by academics at the Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta (UNY) and the University of Exeter.

They will work with key figures in higher education in both countries to develop and disseminate guidance and resources for policymakers, university leaders and practitioners designed to make studying more inclusive.

Researchers will examine how those with disabilities, and ‘disability’ in general, are represented and problematised in the context of higher education in both countries in news media, digital/social media, legislation, and policy.

They will discover higher education staff and students’ understandings of disability, disability rights and inclusion in and across the two countries, and how they experience this.

The two-year project, Disability Rights and In/Equalities in Higher Education, is run by researchers with expertise in education, critical disability studies and media/communications.

Academics involved from Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta are Dr Pujaningsih and Dr Nur Azizah, who lead work on special needs and inclusive education. They co-lead a programme for university teaching staff, within the Indonesian Forum of Special Education Study Programmes (IFSESP) which connects 20 universities across the country.  Nur also leads the Disability Services Unit at UNY, and is an expert disability advisor for Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

Researchers from the University of Exeter are Dr Lauren Stentiford, Dr George Koutsouris, Dr Eleni Dimitrellou and Dr Zizheng Yu. Jessica Rourke, who leads the Disability Support Service at the University of Exeter, will sit on the project’s Advisory Board and will facilitate data collection with disability support staff and students at Exeter, and co-design and co-create project outputs.