Insights on the futures of higher education explored at UNESCO Chairs Forum on Education Day

The Futures of Higher Education was the focus of the International UNESCO Chairs Forum held on the International Day of Education. The event, organized by UNESCO and Italy, was transmitted from the stage of the Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai to an online audience. UNESCO Chairholders and UNITWIN Network Coordinators from all world regions shared their insights and perspectives, especially on the topics of skills development and digitalization.

Referring to the report Reimagining our Futures Together, from the International Commission on the Futures of Education, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Ms. Stefania Giannini, recalled that humanity faces a stark choice either to ‘continue on an unsustainable path or to radically change course’. Dr Ahamd Al-Yahaey, of the Ministry of Education, United Arab Emirates, said that the report, ‘set the right foundation for us to…reimagine how higher education would fit the context of the future’. H.E. Patrizio Bianchi, Minister of Education, Italy, said the Covid crisis had created the need ‘to connect minds and reconnect people, to create solid networks’. Lamented the disruption to students caused by the pandemic, H.E. Maria Cristina Messa, Minister of Universities and Research, Italy, invited the audience to look at the future in an innovative manner for creative solutions, and drew attention to the threat of an increasing global digital divide. Minister Messa said that more interdisciplinary knowledge and analysis is needed to address today’s challenges. The UNITWIN Network can support national academic systems.

In his keynote, Francesc Pedro, Director of UNESCO’s International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, presented visions for the futures of higher education, based on expert and public consultations. Experts called for higher education that takes active responsibility for our common humanity; promotes well-being and sustainability; nurtures intercultural and epistemic diversity; and advocates and creates interconnections at multiple levels. Two UNESCO Chairs from Italy, Professor Melloni and Professor Simeone, provided their comments on the keynote and offered visions for the Futures of Higher Education.

Panel one on skills for work and life featured Professor Loes Damhof, UNESCO Chair in Futures Literacy, The Netherlands; Dr. Ziad Said, UNESCO Chair on TVET and Sustainable Development, Qatar; and Dr. Willy Ngaka, Coordinator of UNITWIN Network on Literacies, Green Skilling and Capacity Development for Sustainable Communities in Africa, Uganda. They shared views on the skills needed for the futures, including ‘futures literacy’ being able to think about futures to inform the present. They also discussed connections between education and industry, skills development beyond classrooms, and how to bring higher education opportunities to local communities.

In a recorded video message, Livia Pomodoro, UNESCO Chair on Food Systems for Sustainable Development and Social Inclusion called upon UNESCO Chairs to work in collaboration with each other and a variety of stakeholders in society.

Panel two on digitalization and connectivity comprised Professor Yunkeum Chang, Coordinator of UNITWIN Network for Women’s Empowerment through ICT Skills and Leadership Education, Republic of Korea. Professor Moussa Lo, UNESCO Chair in Emerging Sciences and Technologies for Development, Senegal, and Professor Hannele Niemi, UNESCO Chair on Educational Ecosystems for Equity and Quality of Learning, Finland. They discussed the benefits of digital technologies in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the adjustments needed in higher education. Whilst recognising potential benefits, such as customized learning, the panelists also emphasized the need to take local realities into account and consider the challenges. They highlighted the complex ethical questions that accompany the future use of digital technologies.

The Forum concluded with a special session on the Declaration of the Italian UNESCO Chairs for Sustainability, which expresses the commitment and contribution of the ltalian UNESCO Chairs to the development of education and knowledge in relation to the global environmental challenge. The signatories believe that integrated thinking, the commitment of all and a profound change in our perception of ourselves and the world are needed to achieve a new paradigm of human development in harmony with the planet. Ms. Stefania Giannini, Minister Patrizio Bianchi, Franco Bernabè, Prof. Annateresa Rondinella, Prof. Benno Werlen and Prof. Axel Didriksson each expressed their support for the Declaration.

In concluding, Ms. Stefania Giannini highlighted that UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks, as a community of knowledge, learning and research, can contribute to UNESCO’s mandate and address current global challenges. Ms. Giannini advocated for a cooperation-based model of development. The next step is the 3rd World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022), on Reinventing Higher Education for a Sustainable Future, to be held in Barcelona 18-20 May 2022.

 

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