Delegation from Southern Africa makes a strong representation to the World Higher education Conference in Barcelona

About 1,800 physical participants; and about 8000 online participants from all over the world attended the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) in Barcelona Spain. The WHEC2022 was organised by UNESCO in collaboration with the Government of Spain, the regional Government of Catalonia, the City Hall and the Regional Authority of Barcelona, with the technical assistance of GUNi/ACUP and the Scientific Steering Group led by the Futures of Education initiative, IESALC, IIPE, MGIEP, UIL, UIS, UNEVOC and others. The conference holds approximately every ten years with the previous two editions took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

With the motto – ‘Reinventing higher education for a sustainable future’, the UNESCO’s World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022) hosted in Barcelona was attended by delegates representatives and experts in higher education from all over the world to debate and identify a roadmap for higher education in the next ten years. Delegates from the southern Africa region included deputy vice chancellors of universities, SADC representative, Senior lecturers, experts in higher education and quality assurance etc. The WHEC2022 featured 120 roundtables, side events and workshops, 86 Higher Education talks, 5 youth-led activities, launching of important reports by the Expert Group on Universities and the 2030 Agenda, GUNI, UNESCO IESALC among others.

As countries are grappling with a complete post-pandemic reconstruction, the idea is to create effective answers to face critical challenges such as climate change, poverty and inequality, unemployment and job insecurity as well as the crisis of democracy. Education is one of the main levers for transforming the world and make it more sustainable, fair and progressive. The conference underscored the significant role of higher education institutions in addressing the great challenge of evolving from traditional models to become authentic drivers of social change by creating and disseminating knowledge and talent. This effort is part of a process of creating an open and transformative space to produce knowledge through education, research, innovation and culture, as well as a sustainable ecosystem of knowledge with social impact.

Some key sessions attended by delegates from Africa include Youth Skills Development in Africa through Higher Tech Ed, Reimagining the Futures of Higher Education, Higher Education Teachers: Reinventing the Future of the Profession, Reimagining the Futures of Higher Education: Scenario development workshop (UNESCO Futures of Education), and Implementing the Addis Ababa Convention among other of specific interest to delegates.

The roadmap adopted as a “living document” and key to reimagining our futures together with education at the core. It calls for co-creating more open, inclusive, equitable and collaborative systems. It advocates that higher education must deal with and respond to global challenges guided by principles that define it as a public good and an integral part of the right to education.

Some of the responsibilities toward learners include:

  • Fulfil the right to higher education and consider it a public good
  • Shift mind-set: include and empower, not categorize or discriminate
  • Open higher education to society: connecting, integrating different systems of knowledge in a circular vision –from local to global and back
  • Foster a new ecology of learning: lifelong and collaborative, placing science and technology at the service of human and planetary well-being.

The Roadmap recommends that moving forward, requires a sense of urgency; which means either we do things now or humanity and the planet can end up facing an abyss. In line with the principles and transformations some practical approaches to make progress, turning dialogue into action and results are:

  1. ambitious targets and carefully monitoring progress towards them;
  2. quality assurance and continuous improvement in HED;
  3. flexible learning pathways, recognition, mobility, and internationalization;
  4. research on and innovation in HED associated with capacity development;
  5. renewed production, dissemination, and use of HED data;
  6. a global conversation on and collaboration in HED;
  7. international cooperation to support by shared goals;
  8. Timeline for the upcoming years.

For more details, visit the link to the Roadmap in EN here  with the theme – BEYOND LIMITS -New Ways to Reinvent Higher Education.

Going forward, the Southern Africa region hopes to engender a process that defines more precisely, determine what is pertinent for Southern Africa as inputs to global meetings;  and find ways to build sustained conversations for co-creation between our institutions/systems and the world of work. Others include engaging on developing real joint projects on Post-school Education and Training (PSET) agenda between higher education systems; micro-credentialing, co-teaching, co-supervision on post-graduate programmes; and work to set a Southern African Post-school Education and Training (PSET) agenda to include more research on PSET in the region and stronger influence the AU agenda on PSET.