Core values should be at the forefront of the Futures of Higher Education
On May 25, 2021, over 500 attendees from more than 50 countries representing all the UNESCO world regions participated in the launch of the report “Thinking Higher and Beyond: Perspectives on the Futures of Higher Education to 2050”. The virtual gathering brought together some of the higher education experts involved in the report to share their different perspectives on the subject .
Francesc Pedró, director of UNESCO IESALC, opened the webinar by highlighting the relevance of this report: first, as the institute’s contribution to UNESCO’s flagship work on the Futures of Education; second, as one of the most important efforts that UNESCO IESALC has done on thinking about alternative, sometimes competing, futures of higher education. “This launch celebrates the completion of phase one of a larger project initiated by UNESCO IESALC, which includes a series of activities leading up to the World Higher Education Conference in 2022”, he said.
Noah W. Sobe, Senior Project Officer at the Future of Learning & Innovation team at UNESCO, explained that the Futures of Education project is a global initiative by UNESCO to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet. Its objective is “to generate an agenda for global debate, research, and action on the futures of education, learning, and knowledge in a world of increasing complexity, uncertainty and precarity,” he said. Sobe noted that the new UNESCO IESALC report carries a strong message of hope, and a discussion of the current challenges on what futures we may need to rethink our relationships with each other, with the planet, and with our society .
Emma Sabzalieva, UNESCO IESALC Senior Policy Analyst and the coordinator of the Futures of Higher Education initiative, explained that the report synthesizes the responses of 25 higher education experts to two big questions: How would you like higher education to be in 2050? and How could higher education contribute to better futures for all in 2050?. “It is a call for blue skies thinking to generate new and diverse global perspectives on the plural futures of higher education to a 2050 horizon,” she added.
The report’s key messages call higher education to take active responsibility for our common humanity, promote well-being and sustainability, draw strength from intercultural and epistemic diversity, and uphold and create interconnectedness at multiple levels. To create different and better futures in higher education, the report considers ways to: shape the purposes of higher education; design higher education for all; create and share knowledges; generate strength in diversity and engage with soul and in solidarity.
Speaking at the launch, Professor Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh, Vice President for Humanities at the University of Jordan, highlighted the need to work on access and equity in higher education, provide skills for students to be more independent, and improve new technologies to be successful and take advantage of current opportunities. Regarding learning experience, Majdoubeh stressed the need for interconnection to facilitate international experiences and cultural exchange.
Former director of Institute for African Studies at University of Ghana, Professor Emerita Takyiwaa Manuh, shared that the higher education enrollment rate is only 5% in Africa, the lowest in the world. “I believe the future of higher education in the African region must be democratic to find a way to move away from colonial controls, to make it a right for all and not just for a few. Yet, while virtual and digital platforms exist, they are not accessible to all students. Therefore, it is important to promote critical thinking, collaboration, and mutual exchanges,” she said.
Rajani Naidoo, Director of the International Centre of Higher Education Management and UNESCO Chair in Higher Education Management, University of Bath, discussed the need to advance skills to promote sustainability goods, to resist hyper-competition and market monopolization, and to support, secure and dignify the futures of higher education for all.
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia, insisted on the necessity of bringing a holistic vision to education. In his words, “we need to come together as humanity; be more inclusive, sustainable, equitable and resilient, to provide better solutions to global problems.”
Professor Patricia Mariella Ruiz Bravo Lopez, UNESCO Chair in Gender Equality in Higher Education at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, stressed the importance of strengthening democratic values through inclusion, e.g., by further opening higher education to indigenous populations, to migrants, and by promoting diversity and tolerance.