cultureofpeacebkgrnd.gif (3016 bytes)



UNESCO's International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century identified

the "four pillars of education" as:

UNESCO's programs address all four pillars, aiming to promote forms of education to which all people have access throughout their lives.  Hence, it includes support to basic education, adult and informal education, vocational and technical training, and higher education.  Some of UNESCO's particular concerns include:



Let's take a closer look at an example of the interaction between UNESCO and the partners of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCU) in the field of higher education.  In order to facilitate reflection on the needs of higher education systems worldwide, UNESCO convened a World Conference on Higher Education in i998.   Several regional conferences took place in preparation for the World Conference, including one organized by the CCU at Victoria University in Toronto in April, 1998.  The CCU brought together a group of more than 80 North American university and college presidents, professors, students, corporate CEOs, government officials, and others from a range of related organizations, to reflect on the future of higher education.

 Another international conference.  Was this of interest to anyone besides a few academics?

You be the judge.  Since the I960s, higher education has ceased to be the elite pursuit it once was.  In Canada, some 85 per cent of young people now complete secondary school, and of these, 80 per cent go on to a university or college to study.  Moreover, increasing numbers of prime age adults are returning to post-secondary institutions to update their knowledge and skills.  Never before have so many people viewed higher education as so critical to their success in life

This is a global trend.  East and west, in both industrialized and developing countries, more people are seeking higher education.  The sources of this demand are diverse, but not least is the growing requirement for advanced skills and knowledge in the labour market.  In Canada and other industrialized countries, most young people see a post-secondary degree, diploma, or certificate as a necessary condition of a good job with a decent income.  For their part, both private and public employers are looking more than ever to universities and colleges to supply them with people who have the skills, knowledge, and attitudes they need.

Yet at the very time higher education has become critical to the life chances of most people, governments are cutting back public support for it.  Increasingly, in Canada and in many other countries, the burden of cost is falling on individual students and their families.  Declining public support has undermined the quality of libraries and laboratories, driven up average class sizes, and launched a new era of competition among universities and colleges for students, research funds, and corporate sponsors.  Post-secondary institutions are adopting more entrepreneurial strategies in this new environment.  Most now promote the "brand recognition" of their names, develop programs with unique selling points for niche markets, enter strategic partnerships with corporations for training and research, and market themselves internationally.


Inevitably, basic questions arise.  What is the purpose of higher education in this new environment?  Who is it for?  What has become of the promise in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit?" At the same time, why do we have both unemployed graduates and shortages of skilled workers?  To whom, and how, are institutions of higher education accountable for the quality and relevance of their programs, both in teaching and research?  How are they accountable for shaping future responsible citizens with professional ethics?  And what can we do about the increasing gap between the citizens of industrialized and developing countries in their access to higher education and knowledge?

In short, the group brought together by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO had much to talk about, and there was no shortage of points of view.  The two keynote speakers represented these differences well.  Peter Godsoe, Chairman and CEO of Scotiabank, spoke of the urgent need to give students a "global education" to provide the skills that corporations like his own need to give them a competitive edge in the new global marketplace.  At the same time, he urged Canadian universities and colleges to market their services aggressively to foreign students, warning them that Canada has fallen behind other countries in responding to the growing global demand for higher education.

By contrast, Frank Rhodes, Emeritus President of Cornell University, began by noting how great a change universities and colleges in North America have already made in recent years.  There has been a massive expansion in campuses, program range, and student numbers; an enormous opening up of access to those previously excluded; growth of research and education in science and technology on campuses; and a major response to the growing demand for professional service in many areas of everyday life.  He recognized that institutions of higher education do have to face up to the new challenges posed by globalization, and the social, economic, cultural change it brings.  They will have to do this in an environment of conflicting demands: for both greater access and greater quality, with greater accountability to the public in a time of declining public support.  He insisted, however, that the true mission of the university and college is not to promote economic, technical, or cultural development, but to foster the personal growth and development of individual persons.


Two days of debate followed.  The final report of the North American meeting reflected the multiple points of view represented and went forward to the World Conference in October i998, where Canada was represented by an official delegation led by the Ministers of Education of British Columbia and Quebec.   Over 3000 people from around the world came together for five days of deliberations and emerged with a Declaration and Plan of Action.  This final document does not represent a solution to the issues in higher education.  Its purpose is to serve as a point of reference for those who struggle with these issues daily.  In particular, the Declaration reaffirms the goal of making higher education accessible to all on the basis of "merit, capacity, efforts, perseverance and devotion" and without discrimination on grounds of race, gender, language or religion, or economic, cultural or social distinctions, or physical disabilities." It also reaffirms the principle of academic freedom and deals extensively with issues of quality, relevance, public financing, accountability, and international co-operation.

The Declaration makes several references to a normative instrument to which Canadians made a significant contribution: the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel, approved by UNESCO's General Conference in November 1997.  The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) played a leading role in the development of this recommendation.  Citing it, the Conference declared that higher education institutions and their personnel and students should have the freedom to analyse and speak out on ethical, cultural, economic, and social issues completely independently, while being fully responsible and accountable to society.

ARE THESE ISSUES OF CONCERN to you?  Have you even been involved in debated on these questions?  Have you ever used the material prepared by UNESCO to prepare yourself?  The Declaration and Plan of Action are not solutions in themselves but points of reference for those who are struggling to achieve its vision.  Without this activist energy, they remain lifeless words on paper.  Your own ideas could make a difference to the outcome of international declarations.  Consider ways that you could influence their content, and how to follow up on their implemenation.


World Declaration on Higher Education For the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action

Canadian Commission for UNESCO, Report of the North American Preparotory Meeting for the 1998 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education Ottawa: CCU, 1998

"Higher education and after?" The UJVESCO Courier. September 1998

"Universities at the Crossroads" UNESCO Sources. No. 104, September I998