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Report on Attendance at UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education


Introduction

The World Conference on Higher Education (WCHE) is a once every ten years conference looking at current developments and the future prospects of higher education for UNESCO’s 193 member States and six Associate member States. Given the critically important role of higher education in the rapidly globalizing knowledge-driven global society, the 2009 WCHE had special significance.

I am grateful to the University for allowing me to attend this conference. I am also very grateful to the Government of France for meeting the expenses of this visit and allowing me to attend the pre-WCHE International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) organized policy forum on higher education planning in small states. I was also able to visit the Commonwealth of Learning on my way back from the conference.

International Institute for Educational Planning Organized Policy Forum on Higher Education Planning in Small States

I attended the IIEP Policy Forum on higher education in small states with a large number of representatives of small states and of institutions associated with higher education. The two-day forum discussed current developments in higher education in small states within the context of internationalization, regionalization and globalization.

I was able to make a presentation in one of the sessions and chair another session that looked at the University of West Indies as a regional model for higher education provision in the Caribbean presented by Professor Bhoendradat Tewari.  The other paper in my session was Sir John Daniel’s on the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC). Both of these papers and indeed a number of other papers were of significant relevance to our region. Many of the ideas raised would be useful in looking at how USP proceeds in the future. 

The policy forum also gave me useful opportunity to network. I established connections with the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Development) at the University of the West Indies; the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and now Secretary-General of the Association of the African Universities, Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai; the Chief Executive Officer and President of Commonwealth of Learning, Sir John Daniel; the Director of the IIEP, Dr. Mark Bray; and  the new USP External Advisor in Education, Professor Michael Crossley.  The Policy Forum had another participant from the Pacific, Dr. Emma Kruse Vaai, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Samoa and we had useful discussions.


World Conference on Higher Education (WCHE)

The conference covered a wide variety of areas starting with the opening address by the Director General of UNESCO, Mr. Koichiro Matsuura. The background on the WCHE and copies of the programme, speeches and presentations can be found at www.unesco.org/en/education. The opening speech was followed by messages from major stakeholders including the Secretary-General of OECD; the European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy; the European Union; wife of the Vice-President of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden; Her Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor-General of Saint Lucia. These were followed by the keynote address by the Minister for Education of China, followed by panel discussions (these speeches can also be accessed at our website at www.usp.ac.fj). A major speech by the UNESCO’s Head of the Higher Education Division, Mr. Georges Haddad then followed, with reports being presented from each of the regional preparatory conferences.

The mid-morning session covered the significant changes occurring in global higher education and comprised major presentations covering the main report on world higher education. This was followed by presentations on three main areas of internationalization, regionalization and globalization of higher education issues of equity access and quality and finally learning research and innovation. The world conferences also had a plannery roundtable on Africa looking at higher education in Africa as well as a roundtable social responsibility of higher education addressing the challenges of our time.  There were a number of parallel discussions round these three things which took up most of Tuesday, Wednesday there were special sessions on discussion stakeholders including Ministers, Institutes and Civil Society and the closing afternoon session had presentations from Mr. Fernando Haddad, Minister for Education from Brazil as well as Honourable Mr. Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resource from India and then other speakers looking at where higher education was going and acting on the ideas of debate.

The closing ceremony looked at the way forward for higher education and research, commitments by UNESCO and partners and presentation of reports from general rapporteurs, and finally the adoption the conference Communiqué and closing remarks by the Director-General of UNESCO.  The World Conference was an important opportunity to follow what was happening globally, regionally and nationally. Importantly also, it also allowed making of some new connections and reinforcement of some of the existing ones. I came away from the conference basically with ideas that re-inforce the importance of relevance; the absolutely significant role that quality assurance should play in higher education; the importance of  cooperation and networking; the critically important roles of research and innovation. I will be giving a detailed presentation to SMT and I hope that over time many of the points raised and which we have internalized will assist in the future activities of the university.

The Communiqué, which is the most important outcome of the WCHE is attached, and which can also be accessed from the USP site as well (www.usp.ac.fj). 

The gist of the Communiqué is:

  • “Higher Education as a public good is the responsibility of all stakeholders, especially governments”. 
  • “Faced with the complexity of current and future global challenges, higher education has the social responsibility to advance our understanding of multifaceted issues, which involve social, economic, scientific and cultural dimensions and our ability to respond to them. It should lead society in generating global knowledge to address global challenges, inter alia food security, climate change, water management, intercultural dialogue, renewable energy and public health”. 
  • “Higher education institutions, through their core functions (research, teaching and service to the community) carried out in the context of institutional autonomy and academic freedom, should increase their interdisciplinary focus and promote critical thinking and active citizenship. This would contribute to sustainable development, peace, wellbeing and the realization of human rights, including gender equity”. 
  • “As a public good and a strategic imperative for all levels of education and as the basis for research, innovation and creativity, higher education must be a matter of responsibility and economic support of all governments. As emphasised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit’ (Article 26, paragraph 1)”. 
  • “At no time in history has it been more important to invest in higher education as a major force in building an inclusive and diverse knowledge society and to advance research, innovation and creativity”. 
  • “Higher education institutions should seek out areas of research and teaching that can address issues related to the well-being of the population and establish a strong foundation for locally-relevant science and technology”. 
  • “Member States, working in collaboration with all stakeholders, should develop policies and strategies at system and institutional levels to:  
    • Maintain, and if possible, increase investment in higher education in order to sustain quality and equity at all times and foster diversification in both the provision of higher education and the means of funding;
    • Ensure adequate investments in higher education and research to reflect growing expectations and societal needs;
    • Put in place and strengthen appropriate quality assurance systems and regulatory frameworks with the involvement of all stakeholders;....”.

Thanks

I would like to thank the Government of France for sponsoring me and for all the cost involved and I would like to thank the Pro Chancellor for approving my leave to attend this once in ten years world conference on higher education. We will ensure that the main recommendations of the WCHE are widely disseminated at the University and taken account in our activities.

Professor Rajesh Chandra
Vice-Chancellor


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