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close this bookPolicy Paper for Change and Development in Higher Education (UNESCO, 1995, 45 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentExecutive summary
View the documentI. Introduction
Open this folder and view contentsII. Trends in higher education
Open this folder and view contentsIII. Challenges for higher education in a changing world
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Responses of higher education - A new vision
Open this folder and view contentsV. Change and developpement in higher education - The role of UNESCO
View the documentVI. Towards a renewal of higher education - The ‘pro-active university’ and the ‘new academic covenant’


UNESCO has had a standing commitment to fostering the development of higher education and research since its foundation almost 50 years ago. As we approach the end of this century and prepare to enter a new millennium, we are witnessing an unprecedented development of higher education and increased awareness of its vital role for economic and social development. Yet higher education is in a state of crisis in practically all countries of the world. Although enrolments are on the increase, the capacity for public support is declining. The gap between the developing and the developed countries with regard to higher learning and research, already enormous, is becoming wider.

The current trends and new challenges facing higher education imply the need to rethink its role and mission, identify new approaches and set new priorities for future development. This has been the leitmotif of the debates on higher education initiated by UNESCO during its third Medium-Term Plan (1990-1995) at regional and international level. It is with the same conviction that the UNESCO Member States adopted a resolution at the twenty-seventh session of the General Conference in 1993, inviting me to ‘pursue the elaboration of a comprehensive policy for the Organization covering the whole field of higher education’.

This policy paper is a response to that decision. It gives a synthesis of what UNESCO sees as the main trends in higher education and also attempts to formulate a perspective for the Organization concerning key policy issues in this field. It raises a number of pertinent issues to which our attention has been drawn by Member States and by the academic community. In view of the above, it formulates a basic rationale on which the process of change and development of higher education could be based and implemented. However, the paper is in no way intended to impose models or make rigid prescriptions; at best, it may serve as an ‘intellectual compass’ for the Member States and for those in charge of higher education in designing their own policies, by taking into account the inherent diversity and specific needs and conditions prevailing at regional, national and international level. The paper is also meant to be of use to UNESCO itself in charting out the main direction of its higher education programme.

This document should be considered as an important part of UNESCO’s contribution to the ongoing debate on all aspects of education at the turn of this century, including higher education. It should also be seen as a starting-point for initiatives and activities promoting higher learning and research, and as an important step towards a revival of support for higher education worldwide.

The complex challenges facing higher education on the threshold of the twenty-first century call for the participation of many actors, and for a diversity of views and approaches. This document should therefore be regarded as complementary to work being done in this field by other international and regional organizations and bodies. However, like many other problems facing contemporary societies, those concerning higher education call for concerted and integrated action. I therefore take this opportunity to appeal for greater co-operation among all the actors to achieve our common goal - the further development of higher education as an instrument for reaching sustainable human development.

Finally, I wish to express my sincere thanks to the Member States and to international governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as to UNESCO’s many other partners for their insightful comments on the draft version of this policy paper.

Federico Mayor
Director-General of UNESCO