Welcoming the participants to UNESCO, the Director-General extended a special greeting to the speakers of the opening session, including US Secretary for Education Margaret Spellings. He also expressed his gratitude to Microsoft for organizing the Forum under the global UNESCO/Microsoft agreement that he had signed with Bill Gates in 2004.
“The partnership is an excellent example of how UNESCO is collaborating with the private sector to achieve the objectives of the World Summit on the Information Society, along with other internationally agreed development goals,” stated the Director-General. Referring to a number of groundbreaking projects implemented by Microsoft and UNESCO, Mr Matsuura felt the partnership highlighted “how technology can improve access to quality education, as part of our work to build inclusive and equitable knowledge societies,” two of UNESCO’s top priorities.
The Director-General went on to explain that the “theme of this Forum, ‘Success and Sustainability: Tertiary Education’s Global Challenge’ resonates strongly at UNESCO as we prepare to host both the second World Conference on Higher Education in Paris in July 2009, and the second World Conference on Science, in Budapest, in November the same year. Together, these events will provide a global platform for innovative thinking on the strategic development of higher education, research and innovation.”
Mr Matsuura elaborated on the key challenges facing higher education and research: “First, we need to reflect on how to assure quality in response to the burgeoning demand for higher education, especially in developing countries. […] The second issue is how to address the increasing diversity of educational providers […]. The third challenge is how to respond to increasing mobility and in particular the effects of the brain drain.”
The Director-General drew particular attention to the challenges facing African countries. “While higher education enrolment in Africa rose by some 66% between 1999 and 2005, the average enrolment rate is still a mere 5%”, he stated, arguing that “this poses a series of impediments to development on the continent. First, because higher education is vital to having the leaders, managers and scientists that Africa needs to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. But also, because of the importance of higher education in ensuring an adequate supply of qualified teachers.”
Concluding, the Director-General stated that “it is clear that we must work together to explore the challenges and opportunities for higher education in today’s fast changing world, so that it can better contribute to the sustainable development of all societies, particularly in the developing world. Therefore, I urge you to give special attention to how we can work with those regions furthest from achieving international development goals, in particular sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, to build an international partnership for development.”
Intervening at the opening session, Secretary Spellings paid tribute to the Director-General’s efforts to reform the Organization, which, she said, had encouraged the United States to rejoin UNESCO. “The United States is very happy about its re-entry into the Organization, and the way in which cooperation has been progressing,” she stated.
Author(s): Office of the Spokeswoman - Source: Flash Info N° 089-2008 - Publication Date: 08-07-2008