> Creating a Community of (good) Practice - Updated: 2004-04-05 10:01 am
UNESCO/OECD Guidelines on “Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education”, 5 - 6 April 2004
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this first working meeting of an important joint initiative between OECD and UNESCO, namely the preparation of guidelines for cross-border education.
May I say first how pleased we are to have joining us the President of the UNESCO General Conference and Ambassador of Nigeria to UNESCO, Mr Michael Omolewa? Quite apart from his official functions his presence here is very appropriate because he and I worked together in conferences on distance education over 20 years ago, so he knows well the enterprise that we shall be discussing.
The same applies to Ambassador Sato of Japan, whom I also welcome. He has had a long interest in the issue of trade in services in general and in education in particular and also brings sophisticated insights to the issues before us.
I warmly welcome our colleagues from the OECD to UNESCO. In my time as Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO I have worked particularly hard to establish or re-establish excellent working relations with our key partner agencies and I am particularly pleased to see the steady growth in joint initiatives that are the result of UNESCO and OECD joining hands across the Seine.
I think of the way that we are helping the OECD to extend the benefits of its impressive Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to countries outside the OECD.
I think also of our joint work in early childhood education and today, of course, of the way that we are joining forces to ensure that the development of trade in educational services and the globalisation of education generally become forces for good rather than disruption.
In the context of interagency collaboration let me also welcome our other partner agencies here present, the World Bank, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the Commonwealth of Learning. We are working in partnership with all those agencies and, of course, I must express special pleasure at the presence of the Commonwealth of Learning since, as some of you will know, I shall have the honour of taking over as the President and CEO of COL on June 1st.
I conclude my welcomes with the most important greetings. I am delighted to salute those of you from over sixty countries and many non-governmental organisations and professional associations who will guide us in this endeavour.
Clearly, one of the virtues of bringing together UNESCO and the OECD is to involve developed countries, developing countries, and the increasing number of countries that are somewhere in between. I think we have succeeded rather well here, because you come from over 60 countries and 32 of you are from states that are not members of the OECD. That seems like a good balance.
It is not my role this morning to make a formal speech about the substance of your meeting but since I spent 17 years as a university president closely involved in this issue, I hope that you will allow me a few comments.
First, let me recall some elements of context. It is increasingly clear that as far as education is concerned, for individuals and for societies, l’appétit vient en mangeant.
I mean that the more education people and societies have, the more they find that they need. For instance, current estimates figures suggest that enrolment rates around 40 to 50 % of the relevant population group are needed to allow a country to function well in a competitive interdependent world.
Enrolment rates in some developed countries reach this percentage while in developing countries they are far lower, at 5% or below. The situation in Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly dramatic. If we believe that development is going to occur we must expect a massive increase in the demand for higher education.
Add to this the challenge of demographic expansion. Even though the 1.9 % growth rate in developing countries between 1995-2000 is expected to fall to 1.7 % for 2000-2005, we can expect that developing countries, which totalled 4 billion people in 1990, will have between 7 and 8 billion people in 2025. Logic holds that the young form a large share of this population, more than 50% in many developing countries.
In Asia alone about 1.5 billion people are children under 15 years of age.
Some people in the developed world already talk about universal higher education, but even if we stick with mass higher education the figures should give us pause.
Current estimates indicate that the historic threshold of 100 million students worldwide has been crossed and that there will be 125 million students before 2020. China has doubled HE enrolments in a few years and had some 15.1 million students in 2001, pulling ahead of the USA as the largest national HE system in the world.
All over the world it is clear that, in this context of growth of higher education, governments cannot afford to invest the same amount of money, proportionately, as they did when higher education was an elite pastime.
This context of budgets in relative decline and a huge gap between developed and developing countries is causing higher education to be reconfigured. There is huge downward pressure on costs in conventional institutions and the emergence of new providers and new provision of many kinds: private universities, for-profit universities, virtual universities, e-learning, branch campuses, franchises, IT academies, and corporate universities.
All this is good. As usual, humankind is responding to changing times with creativity and originality. The challenge is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Our excitement at a new dynamic in higher education, where the state is just one of many actors, should not let us lose sight of the traditions that have produced higher education of quality in many countries. Indeed, some of those traditions pre-date the massive involvement of the state in higher education, which is relatively recent in the millennial sweep of university history.
You can look at higher education and research from various perspectives. UNESCO thinks of higher education as a public good. Others see it as a tradable commodity. UNESCO is an intergovernmental body and many of the same governments that come together within UNESCO also come together to take decisions about trade in services in other forums, such as the World Trade Organisation.
UNESCO’s focus is on education as a public good and we want to see joined-up government at the international level such that Education Ministers and Trade Ministers to work together in developing coherent national agendas for the benefit of both education and trade.
In approaching cross-border higher education from an educational perspective UNESCO operates within the conceptual framework provided by the 1998 World Conference on Higher Education. It is using its existing legal instruments such as the regional conventions on the recognition of studies, as educational agreements between states that can provide the basis for strengthening quality assurance and the fair and transparent assessment of qualifications in the new arena of global higher education.
In practical terms this means that we promote equity of access – a principle that goes back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We celebrate cultural diversity, we seek to empower learners, and we are keen to help countries build the capacity necessary for effective quality assurance.
Internationally, UNESCO has created a platform for dialogue on international issues of quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of qualifications, through the Global Forum that will hold its second meeting on 28-29 June 2004 here in Paris. This work has the strong support of our Member States, as was expressed at UNESCO’s 32nd General Conference, through a resolution entitled 'Higher Education and Globalisation: promoting access to the knowledge society as a means for sustainable development', that was submitted by Norway and supported by Mozambique, Tanzania and other countries.
A very significant development in this work is this joint initiative UNESCO and the OECD to develop guidelines on quality provision in cross-border higher education. This will be complementary to the on-going regional activities in the sense that it will both draw on their ideas and help them develop their own frameworks.
We shall have the advantage of pooling the resources of two international organisations and we do this at a time when the OECD has emphasised its commitment to education, in addition to its traditional role in economic analysis and policy development, by the creation of the Directorate of Education, headed by my colleague Barry McGaw.
OECD’s interest in the role of higher education in economic growth complements UNESCO’s interest in harnessing higher education to sustainable development. The strong role of the OECD in conducting reviews of national higher education policy and doing research in this area will be a great asset to this work. I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting in Dublin of the OECD Education Ministers – a meeting that the ministers present declared to be the most successful that they had ever held. The broad similarity of context helps to create a common framework for discussion in such meetings.
Furthermore, the results of the PISA programme, which are widely accepted even where countries do not like them, also create a common platform for dialogue. UNESCO is proud to be working with the OECD to bring the benefits of PISA to a wider range of non-OECD countries. In a similar way, by working together on cross-border education, we hope to bring a global perspective to a global phenomenon.
What we are trying to do, through this meeting and its follow-up, is to create a community of practice. We hope that this community of practitioners in cross-border education will gradually assume ownership of the issues raised by this new trend. The creation of a community of good practice is the surest guarantee that cross-border education will contribute to the advancement of education generally and promote the public good.
Obviously the legal eagles in both the OECD and UNESCO will do what they can to ensure that this approach of developing guidelines, or soft law as it is called, is as effective as possible.
However, we all know that in higher education, more than in most areas of life, people act more effectively through conviction than through compulsion. Our task is to develop guidelines for cross-border education that are so obviously sensible, and so obviously in the interests of students, institutions and the wider public, that they will be adopted implicitly and spontaneously.
It sounds like a tall order, but it happens to be the way that higher education works best and it is in continuity with the academic ideal that is one of humankind’s greatest achievements.
So I wish you will and I invite you to join me this evening at six for drinks and refreshments.