Revealing global and European facilities and means in strengthening education as a public endeavor and “common good” is important to streamline an optimal education strategy as a model for other countries to emulate. Quality education can steer the digital and green transitions, make teaching profession valuable in unlocking every person’s potential in contributing to common socio-economic progress and collective well-being.
Education presently is seen globally and in Europe as a vital instrument in sustainable socio-economic development and national wellbeing: with basic and specific skills children and young people are likely to have better future. But the world has been changing and modern globalization required the “world population” to quickly adapt education systems to new challenges and working conditions with newer teaching and online technologies.
For example, international education day in 2022 (IED-2022, which takes place globally since 2018), with a notable theme: “Changing course, transforming education”, made an additional stress on sustainable development in education around the world. For example, the IED-2022, in part, visualized a successful SDGs implementation in school communities in about 20 different countries through the so-called showcase “Global Schools Advocates”. The IED-2022 provided great inspiration for education leaders and education policymakers to exchange best practices in bringing sustainable education into school and university curricula.
In Europe, the national dominance in education policy still presently clashes with the urgent need to create EU-wide education/training governance structures, establishing a joint-awarding system for “European degrees” and encouraging “sectoral training policies” in micro-certifications and individual training, particularly in new and digital technologies. Europe is successfully trying to establishing itself as a world economic power alongside the United States and China; though in this regard EU-wide strong mechanisms shall be elaborated to substitute a present “recommendation” approach in education, science and innovation. For example, according to the latest Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021, concerning world’s top-performing universities on the SDGs, the UK performs best together with two other leaders, i.e. Australia and Canada, among top 50 global universities. However, continental Europe occupies very poor positions in this ranking: only six universities have been included in the ranking.
Some good ideas do appear in the EU: for example, the “New European Bauhaus-project”, which focuses on a complex solution, uniting urban renewal, energy efficiency and more sustainable and inclusive lifestyles. This innovative approach allows higher education providers and industry to generate ambitious projects combining science, technology, crafts and art, finally, representing a formidable catalyst in attracting foreign researchers and students being increasingly sensitive to sustainability and social issues.
“Liberal education” and restructuring in education
Several institutions of higher studies in the world have implemented an education process which is generally called a “liberal education” through an array of different disciplines that include the arts, humanities, mathematics and social sciences, suitably integrated with a deeper analysis of some special area of interest for students. Emergence of new general and ICT-technologies (following the outcomes of the 4th industrial revolution) has been changing the European labour market, the availability of work facilities and new skills. As soon as perspective workplaces will demand critical thinking, communication and problem solving capabilities, as well as creativity and multidisciplinary analysis, some single-skill and single-discipline jobs are likely to become automated over time.
Most probable approach in restructuring higher education could be based on a three-tier composition: first-type institutions which will focus on world-class research and high-quality teaching; the second-type, is concentrating on teaching across disciplines with an important contribution to research and education on modern challenges, and the third-type institutions mainly cover colleges offering high-quality undergraduate education. This approach intends to cover primary, secondary and higher education structures providing access to quality, affordable and accountable education with the necessary alignment with national socio-economic policies, as well as European and global challenges and SDGs.
The necessary changes and a wide-ranging restructuring of higher education in Europe shall be aimed at promoting a “research culture” in higher education institutions; possibly, national research foundations shall be established in each member state. However, to streamline the process, a creation of national higher education regulatory authorities would be a feasible solution; such authorities would implement some new policy initiatives, such as promoting internationalisation of higher education, improving the quality of open and distance learning, enhancing inclusion in education, as well as reducing regional gaps in training and education.
A modern state shall take seriously the global challenges in preparing professionals in cutting-edge areas such as e-learning, artificial intelligence, digital technologies, 3-D printing, big data analysis, genome-studies, biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience. These and other cutting-edge sciences must be woven into undergraduate education with the new and appropriate curricula and syllabus.
However, in the “authoritarian neo-liberalism” some vital issues are not yet clear: e.g. some issues of academic and technological sovereignty in the face of new Big-Tech competitors. The Anglo-Saxon model of higher education organised around the Big Four (Australia, Canada, the UK and the US) will be able to resist these challenges, as soon as most digital solutions in education are in the hands of these four states. Presently, however, the Indo-Pacific region is ultimately the main source of international students, representing 45% of all students studying abroad in the world; it seems that intra-regional students’ mobility will prevail: student mobility will become a vector of value-creation and will drive the global competition for talent. In China (with about 3 thousand universities), for example, there are about half a million foreign students, yet largely –about half – coming from Asian region.
Global trends and efforts in business education
In 2000, the United Nations adopted so-called “global compact” to encourage corporate entities and businesses in adopting sustainable and socially responsible approaches. Global education community was provided already in 2007 with a “good helping hand” through globally adopted principles for responsible management education (so-called PRME), which was widely used since in corporate education. Education policies play vital roles in both educating future professionals in the “sustainability spirit” and providing business leaders with the present requirements for responsible and sustainable management.
Thus, “sustainability” enters numerous spheres of social and economic development from energy, transport and construction to consumption, trade and tourism, to name a few. It is not just a ply with words: it’s about fundamental changes in the current business ethics, in still prevailing consumers-oriented policies and industrial policies that are too slow to turn into bio- and circular patterns. In this regard, the PRME principles could serve as a feasible platform to elevate the sustainability’s agenda to the presently required level in universities and equip future professionals and business leaders with the “sustainably-oriented” skills.
International cooperation is really important in higher education: higher education institutions recognise the need to reach outside the campus into the wider world, and across borders, to serve their purpose of developing effective skills among tomorrow’s practitioners and decision-makers. Higher education cooperation among the EU states and international academic networking needs boosting efforts through support for cooperation and policy dialogues, in particular, by attracting the best talent and promoting peer learning and international comparison to foster excellence in research and teaching.
Furthermore, international cooperation in education has additional advantage in supporting innovation and job creation in Europe by enabling skills mobility: study or teaching period abroad is universally recognized as enhancing individual employability. Globally, such mobility encourages future next generations to think beyond national borders with an international outlook. Besides, international cooperation in higher education is encouraging support for EU efforts in the fields of enlargement, neighbourhood and intercultural dialogue. It develops and maintains lasting people-to-people contacts among academics and graduates who are seeking to tackle common challenges.
Global efforts in “education revolution”
Numerous international organisations are already active in the SDGs implementation, e.g. the UN bodies and agencies, the OECD, etc. Thus, the OECD provides a practical guidance for the so-called national “policy coherence for sustainable development”, which includes the following main “instruments” for decision-makers in the education policies: a) improving understanding of interactions and synergies among SDGs and national growth models; b) strengthening public/private institutional mechanisms in the SDGs integrative implementation, and c) monitoring and assessing progress in SDGs policy’ coherence.
More in the OECD online policy toolkit at: http://www.oecd.org/governance/pcsd/toolkit/?utm_source=Adestra&utm_medium
Most active international organisation in sustainable education is the UN special agency, UNESCO which regards the teacher’s education as a priority for the states. Within its special work program on education, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development together with UNESCO made significant efforts to help teachers worldwide not only to understand sustainable development concepts and issues but also to learn how to cope with interdisciplinary, values-laden subjects in established curricula; the program “Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future” has been UNESCO’s response to that challenge. This worldwide program reached teachers across the world and is used with “adaptations” to local, national and/or regional needs with numerous available translations.
To protect the well-being of children and ensure they have access to continued learning, UNESCO in March 2020 launched the COVID-19 Global Education Coalition, a multi-sector partnership among international communities, national governance, civil society organizations, as well as media and ICT sectors to design and deploy innovative solutions. Together they help countries in tackling content and connectivity gaps, facilitating inclusive learning opportunities for children and youth during post-pandemic period of unprecedented educational disruption.
The Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO is a platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right to education during this unprecedented disruption and beyond. It brings together more than 175 members from the UN family, civil society, academia and the private sector to ensure that “learning never stops”. The multi-sectoral coalition includes the following global “operational actions” through academies, campuses and “houses”: i.e. in skills academy, in teachers’ campus and learning houses.
More in: https://globaleducationcoalition.unesco.org/#section_21_blade_32_field0_text_display
Other global trends include, for example, growing student population (expected 600 million students worldwide by 2040 compared to 200 million presently, exponential growth in online learning/teaching and rise of up-skilling, as well as the increase in new jobs linked to the “green” and digital economy; the latter factor is encouraging global web-giants taking advantage of “education’s privatisation”. For example, Google already offers a series of freely accessible MOOCs (massive open online courses) linked to the digital economy and delivers Google Career Certificates in just six months.
Another trend is vital too: increasing growth of a recent trend towards trans-national education (TNE), which could offer a feasible opportunity for “distant students” to take advantage of global digitalisation in education processes.
SDG-implementation in universities around the world
Unesco and the University of Bergen launched the report in February 2022 called “Knowledge-driven actions: transforming higher education for global sustainability”, which discussed the role of higher education institutions in contributing to the UN-2030 Agenda’s implementation in the world, by focusing on three interrelated actions:
1. Moving along active inter- and trans- disciplinary models in producing and circulating knowledge on sustainability issues;
2. Fostering epistemic dialogue and integrating diverse ways of knowledge process, and
3. Demanding stronger wide-public-society actors through proactive engagement and partnerships.
Note: Epistemic dialogues, involving explanation and argumentation, have been recognized as potential vehicles for conceptual understanding. Although the role of dialogue in learning has received much attention, the problem of creating situations in which students engage in epistemic dialogue has only begun to be addressed. Hence, “epistemic circularity” is acceptable only under certain circumstances.
The report directs attention to the systemic barriers that have inhibited transformations in these three areas so far, and provides advice and examples on possible achievements; besides, it calls on higher education leaders and actors to push for transformations in governing institutions, while critically reflecting their role in achieving the sustainable agenda.
See: Unesco digital library in: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000380519.
Sustainable development and integrated SDGs management around the world dates back to the end of 2015; so many good words, intentions and projects have been visualized, in particularly with the SDG-4 on quality education. The seemingly new one, on transforming higher education presented by Bergen University and UNESCO takes a lead in providing a triangle in “global SDG-solution”, i.e. inter-disciplinarily, epistemic dialogue and stronger wide-public-society’s involvement in implementing UN-2030 Agenda. No doubt, any attempts in this direction shall be praised! But, isn’t a waste of time and resources: global community has just only some years (the deadline is 2030!) to report on achievements. Has the global community come closer to the exploring basic “instruments” in SDGs: social, economic and environmental means?
The most optimal, efficient and progressive path in the years to come would be to make sustainable all three components! In particular, the educational component (SDG-4 on teaching sustainable economics, i.e. new political-economy’s models in “teaching sustainability”), will be a vital instrument in transformation, alongside such issues as sustainable social relations, employment and environmental/climate change measures. Are the European universities ready for these fundamental transformations in studies, syllabus and able teachers; after my meaning, only a few have such potentials?
Coordination of economic policies across member states is closely connected to SDGs; hence the Commission as a “collective College” is responsible for the SDGs overall implementation. Presently, the European countries age global leaders on the SDGs, but none are on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030. According to the global 2019 SDG Index prepared by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), all ten global states closest to achieving the SDGs are in Europe.
The EU member states face the greatest challenges on goals related to climate, biodiversity, and circular economy, as well as in the convergence among the states in living standards. In particular, states need to accelerate progress towards such SDGs as: climate change (SDG 13), sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12), protection and conservation of biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15), and sustainable agriculture and food systems (SDG 2).
Many European countries are falling back on “leaving no one behind” issue: so the EU’s SDG strategy must place emphasis on strengthening social inclusión, education and innovation capacities must be improved to raise living standards in poorer member states and accelerate the convergence in living standards.
More in: SDSN in Europe Report, 2019.
Education in sustainability: global framework
Actually, the UN global agenda in sustainability also includes approaches to pressing educational problems and issues; thus, one of the goals, i.e. SDG 4 titles “quality education” is a reflection of these specific aspects in education challenges. The major aim of the SDG 4 is to provide an inclusive and high quality education which will improve the learner’s standard of living and peoples’ future around the world.
Specific educational SDG 4 consists of 7 targets and 3 means of implementation (through a dozen of indicators); eight of the targets/means are supposed to be achieved by 2030, one is to be achieved already by 2020, the rest are “limitless”.
The SDG 4 seven targets include: free universal primary and secondary education (target 4.1), equal access to quality pre-primary education (target 4.2), equal access to affordable technical, vocational and higher education (target 4.3), increasing the number of people with relevant skills for financial success (4.4), eliminating all discrimination in education (4.5), universal literacy and numeracy (4.6), education for sustainable development and global citizenship (4.7). Among three means in SDG 4 there are: building and upgrading inclusive and safe schools (4.a), expanding higher education scholarships for developing countries (4.b) and increasing the supply of qualified teachers in developing countries (4.c).
For example, the target “universal primary and secondary education” (target 1) means the following: provision 12-years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education ensured for all, with at least nine years in compulsory one, leading to relevant learning outcomes.
In the target on “relevant skills for decent work” (target 4), the following measures are involved: beyond work-specific skills, emphasis must be placed on developing high-level cognitive and non-cognitive/transferable skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, teamwork, communication skills and conflict resolution issues.
In the “teachers and educators” target, the model approach depicts that teachers are the key to achieving all SDG-4 targets and the target requires urgent attention due to the fact that equity gap in education worldwide is exacerbated by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers. “As teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems”, the SDG-4 acknowledges.
Source and citations from: https://campaignforeducation.org/en/who-we-are/the-international-education-framework-2/the-sustainable-development-goal-4/sdg4s-10-targets/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwtZH7BRDzARIsAGjbK2Yh3ZtgAjpVntolB34hIGCedrJynBNgMNVmkCFojBsn6mTgnCS5NJsaAkGEEALw_wcB.
The EU-wide education strategy
The EU institutions and the member states together contribute more than half of all global aid to education, supporting the education sector in more than 100 countries in the world. During the period 2021–2027, the European Commission is going to spend at least 10 percent of its budget on international partnerships in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific; another 10 percent is devoted to humanitarian aid and education. The European Commission will also continue to strengthen education systems, addressing skills mismatch with the labour market and enhancing joint cooperation with education institutions including mobility of students and teachers. Education is a fundamental right and a foundation of successful, resilient and welfare societies; it is the basis and a catalyst for the green and digital transition in Europe. Besides, it is essential to the global recovery and achievement of all UN SDGs: quality education is a vital part of the development of every child and young person. With the European “digital decade”, Europe is working towards an ambitious but quite attainable target: by 2030 at least 80% of all adults should have basic digital skills.
At the EU level, the EU institutions’ efforts are aimed at two main goals: supporting universities in shaping sustainable and resilient economies, and making member states’ societies greener, more inclusive and more digital.
In the European strategy for universities, excellent and inclusive universities are regarded as a paramount condition and foundation for open, democratic, fair and sustainable societies while providing a background for sustained growth, entrepreneurship and employment.
European educational revolution as a regional education and research strategy includes several measures, most vivid are the following:
= First, a couple of administrative measures”, which are divided into a so-called the EEA’s “education initiative” within the European Education Area, EEA since 2018-19, aimed at structuring collaboration among the EU-27 states and interested partners in creating more resilient and inclusive national education systems. In February 2021, the EU outlined a strategic framework for EEA for the period 2021-2030, which included: supporting the member states in their education and training systems reforms; enhancing synergies with other policy areas such as research and innovation, social policy, employment or youth, and with EU funding instruments to better support national reforms; and identifying targets and indicators to guide work and monitor progress in education.
= The other measure is the so-called “research initiative”, which is aimed at creating a new European Area for Research and Innovation (EARI).
Both education and research initiatives are aimed at facilitating and reinforcing transnational cooperation among universities to strengthen their capacities to equip young people, lifelong learners and researchers with the right competences and skills. These goals will also mainstream a culture of European excellence in education, research and science and value knowledge creation amongst higher education institutions, improving attractiveness and global competitiveness.
= Second, regional “university strategy”, which plays vital role in educational revolution; Commission’s initiative on “European strategy for universities” adopted in January 2022 included a set of actions in the member states for supporting reforms in universities. These actions are aimed at reaching the following four objectives:
• strengthening the European dimension in higher education and research,
• consolidating universities as the focal points in the “European way of life” coped with supporting actions focusing on academic and research careers, quality and relevance for future-proof skills, diversity, inclusion, democratic practices, fundamental rights and academic values;
• empowering universities as key actors of change in the twin green and digital transition, and
• reinforcing universities as drivers of Europe’s global role and leadership in education.
Source: Communication “on a European strategy for universities”, adopted by the Commission, the Parliament, the Council, the ECOSOC and COR in Strasbourg on 18 January 2022; Doc. SWD (2022) 6 final.
Note. The term “university” in Europe is used as a reference to a broader sector, representing the entire area of tertiary education, incl. all types of higher education institutions, research universities, university colleges, universities of applied sciences, higher vocational education and training institutions, as well as higher arts institutions.
= Finally, the EU’s designation of 2022 the European Year of Youth, coincided with the 35th anniversary of the EU Erasmus program, with its importance of quality education for young people, adult, for social and professional growth aimed at creating better and more equitable societies, reducing inequalities and promoting democracy. However, the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in education with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups: about 260 million children and adolescents worldwide are not receiving education.
Presently active, a renewed European Erasmus+ program is aimed at facilitating mobility of students, teachers’ staff and trainees, as well as strengthening the networks and peer learning across higher education institutions. These opportunities are open for people from all over the world and the EU-27 will work with partner countries to strengthen cooperation on research and innovation, for example through Horizon Europe. These initiatives align with the Global Gateway strategy’s provisions for people-to-people connectivity.
General reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_22_446
Some main guidelines in the EU’s present education policy shall be mentioned in the conclusion: there are eight EU’s benchmarks which define the member states main educational paths in transformation:
• An average of at least 15 % of adults should participate in lifelong learning.
• The share of low-achieving 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science should be less than 15 %.
• The share of 30-34 year-olds with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 40 %.
• The share of early leavers from education and training should be less than 10 %.
• At least 95 % of children between 4 years old and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education.
• The share of employed graduates (20-34 year-olds) having left education and training 1-3 years before the reference year should be at least 82 %.
• An EU average of at least 20 % of higher education graduates should have had a period of higher education-related study or training (including work placements) abroad, representing a minimum of 15 ECTS credits or lasting a minimum of three months.
• An EU average of at least 6 % of 18-34 year-olds with an initial vocational education and training (IVET) qualification should have had an IVET-related study or training period (including work placements) abroad lasting a minimum of two weeks, or less if documented by Europass.
More on benchmarks in: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/education-and-training/eu-benchmarks