“The 1998 WCHE was a landmark event. It brought together over 4,000 participants to address the defining issues for higher education on the eve of the 21st century. Now, ten years on, is the time to review progress made, and address emerging new dynamics”, the Director-General said in his address.
“Trends identified in 1998 have accelerated massively over the past ten years. Worldwide, some 138 million students were enrolled in higher education in 2005. This represents almost a 50% increase since the turn of the century. Student mobility is also rising at an unprecedented rate, and is expected to triple by 2025. The very face of higher education is changing dramatically, with a growing diversity of providers and funding. Managing these trends poses real challenges for many governments. There is an urgent need for clear guidance on how to steer the right policy choices. This is why the 2009 WCHE is so important”, Mr Matsuura said, explaining that the Conference would bring all major stakeholders together to agree on practical recommendations for reform and improvement.
The Director-General informed Permanent Delegates that the Conference would place special emphasis on reinforcing the role of higher education in promoting societal change and development. He also underscored the need to address the deep inequalities in access to higher education, both within countries and internationally. Mr Matsuura said that particular attention would be given to the challenges in Africa, where the number of students entering higher education in 2005 stood at just 5%. “This constitutes a serious brake on efforts to eradicate poverty and weakens the capacity of African countries to lead development and institute reforms. It is also undermining progress at other levels of the education sector, including the drive to provide basic education for all”, he said. The Director-General said that the WCHE would seek to reinforce initiatives already underway in Africa, notably within the framework of the Second Decade of Education for Africa and Africa’s Consolidated Plan of Action for Science and Technology.
To ensure that discussions at the Conference are evidence-based and focused on real country needs, UNESCO is preparing a series of assessments and background documents. These include regional status reports and agendas for action, to be produced by the regional preparatory meetings. UNESCO will also launch a report on Global Trends in Higher Education, which Mr Matsuura said would “provide an authoritative review of the state of the sector and serve as a benchmark document for policy discussions”.
The Director-General highlighted that preparing the Conference was a participatory process, and that UNESCO had engaged the support of all key partners: national policy-makers; professors, researchers and students; intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations; and the private sector.
He stated that every effort was being made to ensure maximum synergy between the WCHE and the other four major international education meetings scheduled for the coming year. “We hope that each Conference will advance the frontiers in its field. However, I would also like to emphasize the shared vision that runs through the four meetings. This is one of inclusion, quality learning, flexibility and innovation. All the Conferences are anchored in the conviction that education is a right and a foundation for development, and that learning takes place throughout life. Together, they offer a unique opportunity for broad dialogue on global educational priorities, and will provide guidance to policy-makers and other stakeholders on paths for transforming education systems”, Mr Matsuura said.
The Director-General also underscored the links between the WCHE and the World Science Forum to be held in Budapest in November 2009: “There can be no advances in science and technology without strong institutions for higher education and research. The confluence of these two events is an opportunity to promote these links, by making sure that higher education systems encourage innovation and cutting-edge research, and by fostering closer cooperation between universities and other science leaders from industry and elsewhere”.
“When demand for higher education is ballooning, when the sector itself is undergoing unprecedented transformation, and when government budgets are under increasing financial strain: it is more important than ever that we get the policies right. This will be the focus of the 2009 WCHE. The expectations are high. However, I am confident that with your support we can shape an agenda for change that meets both national development objectives and individual aspirations”, the Director-General said in conclusion.
Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 148-2008 - Publication Date: 29-10-2008