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‘Higher Education Should Reassert Universal Values’

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Mathew Oluwaseun
University of Ilorin (Unilorin)
Mechanical Engineering
500Level, Nigeria.

Higher education has a key role to play in countering the spread of populism, nationalism and tackling global challenges such as poverty and climate change, by reasserting universal values of human dignity and the value of science and research, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s education chief, Stefania Giannini, said.

Competition between universities and between countries will be increasingly about human capital, she warned. Countries that are able to attract talented and very qualified people and give them opportunities to improve their competences will be the most competitive.

But the same countries will also build more inclusive societies “because a strong higher education system, at the national level, can help to lessen social tensions, help people to be tolerant and to know different cultures, religions and languages better”.

The UNESCO, as a leading international organisation dedicated to education, science and culture, may be battling in a difficult context of rising opposition to multilateralism and globalisation, but its mission, to build peace ‘in the minds of men’, still has much to offer the world, she told journalists in London, especially in the current context.

She said that globalisation, although it had enabled people to live, learn and work in different countries, had become a negative word for many common people facing challenges as a result of it.

“Maybe now it is time to get back to a universal perspective based on human dignity, respect, tolerance, exchange of knowledge of cultures and religions. This is a dimension where education and specifically higher education can play a crucial role.”

She was talking on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in advance of a wide-ranging speech in which she argued that higher education is a “fundamental human right” and, more than ever, education is the “main infrastructure to build sustainable development and sustainable societies” and should contribute to “society as a whole”.

“Higher education has a frontline role to play in understanding and finding solutions to challenges affecting all countries, including in their ethical dimensions.

“Higher education institutions are vital for advancing inclusive national and regional development, for shaping more resilient and inclusive societies. They are intricately linked to shaping the economic, social and environmental fabric of our world.”

Giannini, who was Italy’s second female rector – leading the University for Foreigners of Perugia, oriented towards study, by foreigners, of the Italian language and culture – and was Italy’s education minister between 2014 and 2016, was speaking in London at an event marking the 21st anniversary of the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

–Source: universityworldnews.com

She said the world is witnessing an ongoing revolution in higher education that UNESCO, as the only United Nations agency with a mandate in this field, has a responsibility to guide, with all its partners, towards inclusion, relevance and excellence for all students.

Quality assurance is key to survival

“It is a revolution mirroring accelerating globalisation, demographic shifts and quantum leaps in technology that are profoundly transforming how we live, work and learn, even blurring the boundaries of what it means to be human.

“I would argue that quality assurance is co-substantial with the very survival of a university, and of our responsibility towards generations of learners.”

She said that, although there was a tradition of excellence in some of the oldest universities, every university’s challenge today is to provide high-quality programmes that meet students’ expectations, inspire them to be creative, open-minded and innovative, to be critical thinkers with the ambition and knowledge to take up the complex and interdependent challenges of our times.

“We need to build inclusive, accessible and open systems of excellence, and ones that are accountable.”

She pointed to two important developments that are changing or challenging the role of universities.

First, for the first time a universal agenda, adopted by all member states of the United Nations in 2015, recognises the role of higher education to address critical 21st century issues and challenges.

The 2030 Agenda – comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals – provides a broad frame for developing higher learning curricula and research geared towards fighting poverty, inequalities and hunger, improving health, achieving universal education, protecting our planet, and shaping more sustainable cities, communities and societies.

Call for multidisciplinary approach

“These challenges are interconnected and call for a multidisciplinary approach – universities have a heritage of unified knowledge that we need to develop even further.

“None will be realised without quality education – at all levels.”

One target of the education goal – SDG4 – specifically refers to providing “equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university”.

Achieving this target presents steep challenges in the face of the second development, which is the landscape of change that is evolving at an ever-increasing and unpredictable rate, she said.

That change includes three trends. First, a demand for higher education that is rising in almost every part of the world and is driven by demographic trends. An estimated 221 million students are enrolled in higher education worldwide today – a figure that stood at 143 million in 2006 and only 68 million in 1991.

This is an exponential growth – enrolment in Latin America and the Caribbean rose from 22 per cent in 2000 to 50 per cent today, in Europe and Northern America from 55 to 76 per cent, in East and Southeast Asia from 15 per cent to 46 per cent, and in Africa, while still well below the global 37 per cent average, from four to eight per cent, she said.

A second trend is the rise in mobility of research, students and university staff. In 2017 as many as 4.6 million students went abroad to study – equal to one in every 40 students globally. This number is predicted to double to more than eight million by 2025.

“Europe remains the top destination for tertiary level students enrolled outside their country of origin, hosting around 50% of the total, followed by North America, with 20 per cent.”

Explosion in provider numbers

The third important trend is diversification of the global academic community, and an explosion in the numbers and types of higher education providers, modalities of provision and of programmes and certificates, now including ‘baby Bachelor’ degrees and ‘Micro-Masters’.

Technology has spawned choice but also corruption in the form of essay and degree mills that undermine the reputation of the sector, Giannini said.

These challenges require global dialogue and cooperation and UNESCO sees its core mission to be a commitment to the development of higher education policies and practices worldwide by setting norms and providing platforms for dialogue and sharing of expertise.

These platforms include UNESCO’s five Regional Conventions on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications, for the Africa region, the Arab States, the Asia Pacific, Europe and North America, and for Latin America and the Caribbean.

They aim to promote ‘cooperation rather than competition’, inclusion, transparency and trust – these are key factors to build a global quality assurance framework, she said.

Source: universityworldnews.com

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