The World Access to Higher Education Day (WAHED) was celebrated on 17 November 2020. This year, WAHED took the form of a global conference series – WAHED24 – based around ‘Access and Success in the Post Pandemic world’ and featured a series of six events, each led by an organisation active in promoting equity in higher education within their own continent. Last year the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education 2019 took place in conjunction with WAHED, and this year ASEF took the lead in organising the Asia edition of the WAHED24 global conference series.
The Asia Conference received great response and above 400 registrations. Participants were access and success advocators and practitioners in higher education (university managers, NGOs), engaged in social outreach, inclusion, learning design in Asia; students and student organisation leaders engaged on the topics of the conference.
The conference titled “Access and Success for Marginalised Groups in Asian Higher Education” introduced perspectives from Asia (covering South, Southeast, East Asia) on current (during COVID-19) and emerging (post- COVID 19) challenges related to access and success for marginalised sectors in higher education.
Mr MORIKAWA Toru, Executive Director, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) greeted the participants and highlighted that promoting dialogue on inclusion is a basic value and priority for ASEF. HE Ms Kara OWEN CMG, British High Commissioner to Singapore, ASEF Governor for the United Kingdom also delivered welcome remarks, which beautifully merged messages on her personal pathway to higher education, global challenges that arise without access to education, especially for girls and women, and the priorities of the UK to promote equity in its education system.
Opening Panel Discussion
An Opening Keynote Panel Discussion followed, where speakers reflect on the impact of the pandemic on marginalised groups in higher education in Asia, from a regional and national perspective; and shared their advice on how to build back better, more equitable higher education systems in Asia. HE J. Prospero DE VERA III, Chairperson, Philippine Commission on Higher Education emphasised the Philippine Bayanihan spirit – cross-sectoral cooperation, team work and a whole nation approach – and set a meaningful example at the beginning of the Panel.
Dr Chantavit SUJATANOND, Director, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation, Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development (SEAMEO RIHED) described SEAMEO-RIHED’s role in the region, emphasised the diversity in ASEAN, highlighted factors hindering access and success, and shared ongoing activities and solutions addressing problems arising in the post-covid world. (Screen-reader friendly presentation is available here).
Mr Parkhat YUSSUPJANOV, Activist & President of Zhiger, Youth Organization of People with Disabilities, Expert in the Inclusive Education Legislation Preparatory Working Group in Kazakhstan, was representing the youth sector, and was speaking about the right to higher education for persons with disabilities in Kazakhstan during the pandemic. He also shared his vision on an anti-discrimination legislation in the field of disability (legislative); on adopting inclusive education guidelines in each university (implementation); on raising awareness of the faculty, staff and students about students with disabilities and their challenges during the pandemic (changing attitudes). (Screen-reader friendly presentation is available here)
Prof Dr Chanita RUKSPOLLMUANG, Vice President for Academic Development, Siam University; Member, Committee of National Education Council, Office of the Education Council, Thailand, gave an overview of the situation in Thailand and showcased many meaningful examples and lessons learnt from Asia. (Screen-reader friendly presentation is available here)
After the Keynote Panel participants could choose from 3 parallel breakout room sessions to attend.
Breakout Session 1 | Women Students and Students from Lower Socio-economic, Rural and Refugee Backgrounds in Higher Education in Asia
Description | Asian students from lower socioeconomic, rural, remote and indigenous backgrounds face a range of structural challenges in sustaining their engagement in higher education institutions. While women have experienced increased participation in tertiary education in Asia, they continue to face significant social and economic barriers. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated conditions for equitable access for these profiles of students. More importantly, the crisis has revealed hitherto unknown issues affecting higher education for students in marginalised groups. It is thus crucial to examine the quality, relevance, and sustainability of ongoing and emerging global, regional and national responses to meet the needs of these marginalised students at the levels of policy and practice.
- Dr Tiffany CONE, Associate Dean of Core Program, Asian University for Women, Bangladesh (screen-reader friendly presentation available here)
- Ms Lilianne FAN, Co-Founder of Geutanyoe Foundation, Malaysia; Chair of the Rohingya Working Group Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) (screen-reader friendly presentation available here)
- Ms Linh Giang TRAN, Graduate Student, School of Public Policy, Central European University (CEU) (screen-reader friendly presentation available here)
Moderated by Ms Cynthia C CHANG, Head, Office of Service-Learning & Community Engagement, Centre for Experiential Learning, College of Lifelong & Experiential Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), Singapore.
Breakout Session 2 | Pathways and Opportunities for Non-traditional Students in COVID-19 and Beyond
Description: While current and traditional groups of higher education students are coping rapidly given the shifts in learning design and delivery, technical and vocational students, adult learners, out-of-school youth, and other non-traditional students are gradually realising the impact of the pandemic on their employability and social mobility. As such, there is a need to understand how their reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling needs should be jointly addressed by education, industry, and labour market specialists. (Collated, screen-reader friendly presentation for this session available here)
- Dr Suman SHARMA, Principal, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, India
- Mr Musa FAZAL, Group Director, Planning Group, SkillsFuture Singapore
- Mr Yosea KURNIANTO, Deputy Director, SDG Academy Indonesia, a Partnership of UNDP, Tanoto Foundation, and the Indonesian Ministry of National Planning and Development
Moderated by Dr Edizon FERMIN, Vice President for Academic Affairs, The National Teachers College; Co-Chair of Technical Panel for Teacher Education, Commission on Higher Education, The Philippines.
Breakout Session 3 | Students with Special Needs in Higher Education in Asia
Description: Over the last decade, there had been significant achievements in furthering inclusion in higher education systems in the Asia-Pacific region. Students with special needs, learning difficulties, and disabilities, albeit still limited in number have been granted access to education provisions at the tertiary level. However, the momentum of engaging them has been affected dramatically by the pandemic. Aside from adaptations in terms of distance learning, other issues will need to be examined and anticipated in order to ensure that these students will succeed in the time of COVID-19 and beyond. (Collated, screen-reader friendly presentation for this session available here)
- Prof Sarah O’SHEA, Director, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, Australia
- Assoc Prof Tim PITMAN, Senior Research and Equity Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University, Australia
- Mr James CHAN, Student of Psychology, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and Inclusion Advisor, Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Singapore
Moderated by Mr Anthony GARTNER, Manager, AccessAbility, La Trobe University, Australia; President of the Asutralian Tertiary Education Network on Disability.
The closing keynote message provided food for thought on what will be the future of access and success in Asian higher education; what can the public and private sectors realistically do in order to address the constraints that COVID-19 has generated or has aggravated. At this closing plenary Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dzulkifli bin ABDUL RAZAK, Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia has raised more questions so that the conversations in equitable access may be sustained.
Handover to Europe
At the end of the WAHED 2020 Asia Conference we handed the baton over to Dr Graeme ATHERTON, the Director of the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), UK, as the organiser of the WAHED 2020 Europe Conference.
Organisers did their best to keep the event is accessible to all participants. The Singapore Association of the Deaf (SADeaf) provided notetaking service throughout the conference. All the videos have been provided with transcriptions and captions, and all the presentations were made screen-reader friendly.
The concept and programme of the WAHED2020 Asia Conference is designed by the Steering Committee. Our heartfelt thank goes to members of the Steering Committee for making this event possible:
- Ms Cynthia C CHANG, Head, Office of Service-Learning & Community Engagement, Centre for Experiential Learning, College of Lifelong & Experiential Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), Singapore
- Dr Edizon FERMIN, Vice President for Academic Affairs, The National Teachers College; Co-Chair of Technical Panel for Teacher Education, Commission on Higher Education, The Philippines
- Mr Anthony GARTNER, Manager,AccessAbility, La Trobe University, Australia, President of the Asutralian Tertiary Education Network on Disability
- Prof Dr Chanita RUKSPOLLMUANG, Vice President for Academic Development, Siam University; Member, Committee of National Education Council, Office of the Education Council, Thailand