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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’

Executive summary

I. The analysis and rationale for change and development in higher education at both system and institutional level presented in this policy paper stem from a worldwide reflection exercise on the role, main trends and challenges facing higher education in which UNESCO has been engaged during the last few years. It is also part of a broader process aimed at reinforcing UNESCO’s role, in its areas of competence, in the light of current and potential political, social, economic and cultural developments.

II. The nature of the activities and functions of higher education and its diverse institutional framework means that this document is addressed to a wide range of people - from individual members of the academic community to all stakeholders and decision-makers, and to international organizations, including UNESCO itself. It is, however, primarily directed at the main actors responsible for the setting up and implementation of higher education policies at national and institutional level, as well as those who have an impact on international academic cooperation.

Trends in higher education

III. Recent developments in higher education are diverse and often specific to regional, national and local contexts. Over and above these differences, however, three main trends emerge which are common to higher education systems and institutions worldwide: quantitative expansion, which is nevertheless accompanied by continuing inter-country and inter-regional inequalities in access, diversification of institutional structures, programmes and forms of studies, and financial constraints. The widening gap between the developing and developed countries with regard to the conditions of higher education and research is of particular concern.

Challenges for higher education in a changing world

IV. Despite progress in many areas of human endeavour, the challenges of today’s world are paramount. An overview of the main global trends shows a series of concurrent, sometimes contradictory, processes of: democratization, globalization, regionalization, polarization, marginalization and fragmentation. All of these have a bearing on the development of higher education and call for adequate responses on its part. Equally important are the shifting imperatives of economic and technological development, and the modifications in development strategies, which - as UNESCO also advocates - should pursue sustainable human development in which economic growth serves social development and ensures environmental sustainability. The search for solutions to the problems arising from these processes depends on education, including higher education.

Responses of higher education - a new vision

V. The responses of higher education to a changing world should be guided by three watchwords which determine its local, national and international standing and functioning: relevance, quality and internationalization. It is also in relation to these objectives that the role and contribution UNESCO can make to facilitate the process of change and development are formulated.

VI. The relevance of higher education is considered primarily in terms of its role and place in society, its functions with regard to teaching, research and the resulting services, as well as in terms of its links with the world of work in a broad sense, relations with the State and public funding, and interactions with other levels and forms of education.

VII. The need for relevance has acquired new dimensions and greater urgency as modern economies demand graduates able to constantly update their knowledge, learn new skills and with the qualities to be not only successful job seekers but also job creators in continuously shifting labour markets. Higher education has to rethink its mission and redefine many of its functions, particularly in view of society’s need for lifelong learning and training.

VIII. One of the prerequisites for the successful functioning and management of higher education resides in good relations with the State and society as a whole. These relations should be based on the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy which are essential for the preservation of any institution of higher education as a community of free inquiry, able to perform its creative, reflective and critical functions in society. While the State may and should assume catalytic and regulatory roles, institutional self-governance in higher education should prevail. At the same time, the entire socio-economic environment compels higher education institutions to build up ties and linkages with the State and other sectors of society, and to accept that they are accountable to society in general.

IX. Limited public funding is one of the main constraints on the process of change and development in higher education. It is also a source of its current crisis and of the strained relations between the State and the academic community. Higher education institutions need to improve their management and to make more efficient use of the human and material resources available, thus accepting their accountability towards society.

X. Public support for higher education remains essential, but higher education institutions need to engage in an earnest search for alternative funding sources. Moreover, all stake-holders students, parents, the public and private sectors, local and national communities and authorities must join in this search. Nevertheless, the specific conditions prevailing in each country indicate that it would be erroneous to expect that alternative funding can bring higher education out of the current crisis and stop the process of deterioration now affecting many institutions, particularly in the developing countries.

XI. The introduction of tuition fees is a sensitive issue in higher education because it touches on many aspects of social justice and mobility, educational equity and the educational, social and fiscal policies of the State in general. It also has to be seen in the context of academic streaming which is in turn affected by existing tuition fees at earlier levels of the education system. Attention should also be paid to the possibility of introducing other forms of financing higher education.

XII. There is a risk that a policy of detachment of the State from higher education in matters of financing may result in excessive pressure for cost recovery, alternative funding and a narrow interpretation of the need for self-reliance. If higher education is to make a significant contribution to the advancement of society, the State and society at large should perceive it less as a burden on the public budget and more as a long-term national investment for enhancing economic competitiveness, cultural development and social cohesion. This is also the framework within which the problem of cost-sharing in higher education needs to be addressed.

XIII. The renewal of teaching and learning in higher education is essential for enhancing its relevance and quality. It calls for the introduction of programmes which develop the intellectual capacity of students, for improving the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary content of studies, and for the use of methods of delivery which increase the effectiveness of the higher learning experience, particularly in view of the rapid advances in information and communication technologies.

XIV. Research is not only one of the major functions of higher education but also a pre-condition for its social relevance and academic quality. The educational benefits of activities associated with research are often underestimated. These should be taken into account when decisions are made about funding academic research, especially as we are approaching a stage in development when the number of areas of common concern and joint investigation between science, technology and culture is rapidly increasing. Higher education should be seen as an indispensable partner in promoting these links.

XV. Quality has become a major concern in higher education. This is because meeting society’s needs and expectations towards higher education depends ultimately on the quality of its staff, programmes and students, as well as its infrastructure and academic environment. The search for ‘quality’ has many facets and the principal objective of quality enhancement measures in higher education should be institutional as well as system-wide self-improvement.

XVI. The assessment and enhancement of quality should start with and actively involve the teaching and research staff, given their central role in the activities of higher education institutions. Human resources development policies, especially concerning recruitment and promotion, should be based on clear principles and well-defined objectives. They should stress the need for the initial and in-service training of academic staff and for more rigorous mechanisms in the selection and training of staff for administrative and management functions in higher education.

XVII. The quality of students represents an immense problem, especially in view of mass enrolment, diversification of study programmes and current levels of higher education funding. Under these conditions, governments and higher education institutions are adopting varying solutions. There is general consensus that the quality of students in higher education depends largely on the aptitude and motivation of those leaving secondary education - hence the need to re-examine such issues as the interface between higher and secondary education, and student counselling and orientation, as well as the need to foster the notion of responsibility towards society among students, particularly those benefiting from public support.

XVIII. The quality of the physical and academic infrastructure of higher education is important for its teaching, research and service functions, as well as for institutional culture, which is indispensable for keeping together highly diversified and often geographically scattered higher education institutions. Capital investment in infrastructure - from campus access roads, research laboratories and libraries to information highways - should be seen as public works forming an integral part of the overall efforts towards modernization of the economy-linked infrastructure.

XIX. Quality assessment is essential to the search for solutions which will enhance the quality of higher education. It is important that quality assessment should not be carried out with financial issues only in mind or be related mainly to those aspects of the overall functioning of higher education institutions which lend themselves more easily to quantitative measurement in the form of quality indicators. Due attention should be paid to the observance of the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. However, those principles should not be invoked in order to militate against necessary changes or as a cover for narrowly interpreted corporatist attitudes and abuse of privileges that can, in the long run, have a negative effect on the functioning of higher education.

XX. The internationalization of higher education is first of all a reflection of the universal character of learning and research. It is reinforced by the current processes of economic and political integration as well as by the growing need for intercultural understanding. The expanding number of students, teachers and researchers who work, live and communicate in an international context attests to this trend. The considerable expansion of various types of networking and other linking arrangements among institutions, academics and students is facilitated by the steady advance of information and communication technologies.

XXI. International co-operation should be based above all on partnership and the collective search for quality and relevance in higher education. The deteriorating conditions in which higher education institutions function, particularly in some developing countries, require international solidarity. In this respect, it is important to promote those programmes and exchanges which can contribute to reducing existing imbalances and facilitating access to and transfer of knowledge.

Change and development in higher education - the role of UNESCO

XXII. The trends and challenges facing higher education and its possible responses have direct implications for the work of UNESCO. They call for:

- strengthening of UNESCO’s role in the development of higher education and research, in its capacity as the specialized agency of the United Nations system covering these fields;

- commitment of the Organization to those principles and values which should guide policies and strategies for change and development in higher education, particularly increased access, with due attention to equity;

- promotion of diversity in higher education, as a prerequisite for its enhanced relevance and quality;

- furtherance of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, as perennial values of higher education;

- focusing its activities in the field of higher education on promoting international co-operation, with particular emphasis on support for the strengthening of higher education and research capacity in the developing countries.

XXIII. The development of education, including higher education, through international co-operation has been a major field of action of UNESCO since its foundation. Achieving basic education for all and enhancement of opportunities for lifelong learning constitutes UNESCO’s priority in the field of education. This objective goes hand in hand with the need for the renewal and advancement of education at all levels, including higher education. UNESCO will urge governments and other national and international institutions to consider higher education as a social, economic and cultural investment, and to create adequate conditions for its functioning.

XXIV. UNESCO’s agenda in the field of higher education will continue to favour the broadening of availability and participation in higher education. Making higher education ‘accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity’, as stipulated in the Convention against Discrimination in Education adopted by UNESCO in 1960 and reinforced by subsequent international covenants, remains a major concern of the Organization.

XXV. In line with the concurrent trends which agree on the need for rethinking and reform of higher education systems and institutions, UNESCO focuses its action on relevance and quality as the key features of a forward-looking higher education policy. The Organization seeks to promote diversity among higher education institutions and systems. Furthermore, UNESCO emphasizes the need to pursue efforts towards further differentiation of study programmes as the means to better adapt higher education to specific national and local needs, while not losing sight of the universality of knowledge and the paramount criterion of quality.

XXVI. UNESCO will make further efforts to respond to the prerequisites for informed decision-making and a necessary basis for monitoring and tracking change and developments in higher education, and to assist Member States and their higher education institutions to develop mechanisms and methods for ensuring quality and for evaluation. In meeting this responsibility, the Organization will continue to decentralize such activities to its Regional Offices and centres. The development of effective instruments for policy-making also require the Organization to pursue its work in the field of higher education, including the improvement of the coverage, reliability, concepts and definitions of statistics and indicators on science and higher education as well as promotion of research on higher education.

XXVII. Particular importance will be attached to promoting the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy as basic prerequisites for academic life and the functioning and development of higher education institutions. In view of the need to set internationally accepted standards in this respect, UNESCO will co-operate with Member States, with non-governmental higher education organizations and with the academic community as a whole in reinforcing these principles and enhancing the status of higher education teachers.

XXVIII. In accordance with UNESCO’s constitutional mission, the expansion of international co-operation will continue to be both its major objective and its main mode of action in the field of higher education. UNESCO’s agenda is to promote co-operation worldwide while searching for more effective ways to contribute to the strengthening of higher education and research capacity in the developing countries.

XXIX. The UNITWIN/UNESCO chairs programme will continue to be the Organization’s major plan of action designed to reinforce networking and other linking arrangements among higher education institutions at the interregional, regional and subregional levels. The wide range of activities covered by this programme and its flexible organizational and financing approaches have confirmed it to be suitable for the transfer of knowledge, and well adjusted to the relevant needs of the regions, countries and institutions of higher education concerned. Further development in this area will be carried out, taking into account other initiatives of UNESCO such as the UNISPAR (University-Industry-Science Partnership) programme and MOST (Management of Social Transformations).

XXX. UNESCO’s ultimate objective in this process of change and development in higher education is overall renewal and a new vision of higher learning and research embodied by the concept of a ‘pro-active university’ firmly anchored in local circumstances, but fully committed to the universal pursuit of truth and the advancement of knowledge. This should lead to the emergence of a new ‘academic covenant’ which would put higher education in all Member States in a better position to respond to the present and future needs of sustainable human development.