During last six years UNESCO has been working on implementing sustainability into states’ sustainable policies and higher education (HE). Finally, in May 2022 the global educational community adopted a general roadmap for HE and a plan to “reinvent education for a sustainable future”. Although it is not an action plan agreed by governments, it represents a synthesis of the agreed priorities to guide future development of higher education and its role in sustainability.
The third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference was held in Barcelona in Spain from 18 to 20 May 2022. The conference’s theme addressed one of the main global challenges –sustainability- with decisive role of higher education (HE) in the states’ sustainable future. Besides, it adopted a plan to forge a common roadmap for higher education up to 2030.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, St. Giannini described the roadmap as a “step and vision for the future”, however with some reservations or caveats. “It is a working, living document, not a negotiated one: this is not an intergovernmental process” she explained.
So, it is not an action plan agreed by governments: it rather represents a synthesis of the agreed priorities to guide future development of higher education.
The global higher education conference, according to the UNESCO leaders, was about “provoking a debate globally and bringing all the perspectives to build a new vision, a new phase for higher education, with universities to be at the core of a new more sustainable, peaceful world”, concluded St. Giannini.
Reference to: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20220525095453173
Thus, after two years of extensive consultations, the UNISCO technical expert-groups produced ten reports on the roadmap, which were discussed during three days of discussion at the world conference in May 2022 to serve as a background for further analysis during a second phase of consultation in the coming months.
The roadmap calls for change, for transformation, for shifts in mindsets and behaviors, Giannini said. Crucial shifts were needed to focus on “cooperation over competition, diversity over uniformity and flexible learning over traditionally well-structured, hierarchical models of education”, she added. But openness was critical too. “You need an open system of higher education to build bridges and promote partnerships around the world.”
Six principles in the Roadmap to 2030 to followed: – greater inclusion and promoting diversity, – academic freedom balanced by public accountability, – inquiry, critical thinking and creativity, unlocking the potential of every kind of science literacy; – integrity and ethics, “generating a new kind of citizenship” for the future; – a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, having a dynamic relationship with the community; – cooperation for excellence rather than competition.
The six areas for transformation allow enough flexibility to integrate universities’ ongoing efforts for teaching SDGs and in university’s research activity.
Three HE missions
Higher education (HE), training, research and social engagement needed to be shaped by three missions.
First, educating citizens for this century means ensuring they are able to negotiate complexity – “one of the most difficult and main missions of higher education today”.
Second, there is a need for a holistic approach and “humanistic aspects in education”. Present educational complexities require additional scientific knowledge, including trans-sectoral approaches, i.e. not simply putting together different competences required by such an approach; and it entails connecting social sciences and humanities. Therefore, scholars have to break out of their “disciplinary silos” to encourage “open dialogue and openness of institutions”.
Third, it is about social engagement and ethical responsibility: from exclusion to inclusion, higher education needs crucially to be part of the right to education and higher education as a public good, a common good and this is the main pillar of our vision, argued the conferences’ final papers.
Besides, the “modern HE” has to “grapple with its own dynamics”, acknowledged the roadmap, including massive expansion, increasing mobility, changing funding possibilities and the all-encompassing role of ICT structures. These “dynamics” require urgent transformations “rather than reinvention”, which meant evolving into a new educational paradigm often called “reflective, cooperative and agile”, with special efforts to involve students as “co-creators of these changes”.
Two expert-groups’ recommendations can serve as examples:
= UNESCO Global Independent Expert Group on the Universities and the 2030 Agenda entitled: “Knowledge-driven Actions: Transforming higher education for global sustainability”; it constitutes an urgent call for universities to play a much stronger role in the societal transformation needed to achieve the SDGs and in solving some of the world’s greatest problems.
It also urges higher education institutions to embrace the 2030 Agenda by making sustainability and SDG literacy a core requisite for all faculty members and students, to connect students with real world problems and to foster immersive experiences.
Dr. Budd Hall, co-chair of the UNESCO chair in community-based research and social responsibility in HE was “thrilled with this report as the best report on higher education ever to come out of UNESCO and will reverberate around the higher education world. This report is going to be referred to time and time again, he added.
= Re-imagining the Futures of Higher Education: insights from a scenario development process towards 2050. This report envisaged four desirable scenarios for higher education towards 2050, using the “common good” issue and social justice as the framework to support the idea of accessible, inclusive and equitable HE systems. These scenarios are: – Open education, – Technology-enabled networked learning hubs, – Ecologically sustainable higher education, and – Development-driven higher education.
A strong message was coming from the conference’s sessions on transformations concerning sustainability, an issue that all HE institutions need to include into their systems; however, there are already fundamental and system-wide barriers, including existing trends towards “marketisation” of higher education and the increasing focus on rankings, which drives up competition between universities. This is making some university leaders question whether transformation of the HE system and the universities (as it is envisaged by the UNESCO’s roadmap) can be achieved without first transforming the “context in which they operate”?
Besides, it is vital to mention another vital educational aspect with which the UNESCO Higher Education Conference-2022 has been dealing with: i.e. reaffirming the HE importance as a public good and a human right; it underlined the need to promote local and global equity of university’s access. This entails transforming higher education into lifelong learning institutions, something UNESCO has been pushing for since the launch of the UN-2030 Agenda in 2016 and which is related to the importance of having the right to education (as a pillar of SDG 4 demand).
The implications of approaching the higher education as a common good is vital to countries with the dominated private educational facilities: in cases of more private than public universities comes generally a controversial issue of public funding for “private needs”.
Corporate and ICT aspects in education
Global challenges require that the concepts of sustainability must be embedded in the whole concept of national education and skills development systems. Students of almost all university’s departments have to know the basics of modern socio-economic development models, the ways to conduct businesses, modern industrial processes and the developmental impacts on climate change, bio-diversity and sustainability.
The modern educational revolution is more than just providing the graduates with the basics of rather specific technical and ICT issues involved in the present 4th Industrial Revolution; it is to show societal, economic and environmental consequences of contemporary development. Most of all, politicians and governing elites have to know all that!
Therefore, “re-setting” of modern education systems is more than “technological transformation; the whole system of “hard skills” (including necessary backlog of basic knowledge from natural and social science) and sill underscored support for “soft skills” shall be taken into account with more intellectual and critical training.
Traditional education models with “fixed curriculum” and classrooms at “fixed times” are becoming serious barriers to progressive teaching and training. Besides, the future of education needs to be inclusive, i.e. to include all population groups such as working professionals, young parents, on-line working mothers and fathers (mainly working from homes), as well as unemployed graduates…
The contemporary “skills for future” issues, there is a need for restructuring of existing education systems and development of comprehensive lifelong learning and training structures. It is already evident to national governance and educators that existing “final-result-oriented” teaching and learning model of education (which is in most cases too far from labour market realities) is badly suited to the contemporary development realities. Both most workers and even university’s graduates have to take part in massive retraining and re-skilling courses to upgrade generally outdated knowledge from the colleges (or even in cases of changing personal careers). Present training system at the higher education level is too slow in accepting changes adequate to evolving growth patterns, marketing and employers’ needs.
For example, quite often employers are looking for employees with sufficient ICT knowledge, e.g. about digital marketing, in digital “search-engine” optimisation and/or branding products in social media, etc. Thus, it is expected that graduated (potential) employees with a general marketing degree are having those needed digital and ICT skills to actually know the skills to launch online marketing campaigns. If they don’t have such skills, there are two options for employers: either dismiss the applicant or start re-training in accordance to companies’ needs: this is what actually big companies are often doing).
At a time of presently fast business cycles, employers are becoming more impatient about new working skills: they want graduates with adequately-ready skills for an ever growing digital entrepreneurship.