GCE Statement on the Occasion of the Third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference

On the occasion of the Third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, the Global Campaign for Education wishes to reaffirm its tireless support for higher education, recognising its paramount importance in the realisation of all human rights and the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Higher education is a central obligation of States. It shall be made equally accessible to all, based on capacity, by every appropriate means, particularly by the progressive introduction of free education (International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, art.13 c).

Despite this mandate, the GCE regrets the deterioration of access to higher education in many regions of the world and especially deplores the alarming levels of privatisation and commodification, which have been aggravated due to the exacerbated competition between large transnational university education chains, owed, in part, to the weakening of public financing of higher education.

GCE reaffirms that higher education is not a commodity but a constitutive part of the right to education and a crucial element to guarantee the continuity of lifelong learning.  States must ensure higher education financing, guarantee its autonomy and advance its universalisation until it becomes a fee-free system fully articulated with all educational levels. It appropriately responds to the cultural diversity of the societies and especially empowers historically excluded communities.

This ambition for democratisation should also challenge UNESCO to redouble its efforts to organise and permanently consult with organisations of educators and students, and especially university workers, to ensure that the corporate sectors do not continue to impoverish the spaces of global education governance nor by limiting the public nature of higher education and its emancipatory role.

The GCE calls on States and the international community to reaffirm their obligations to finance quality public higher education and regulate private provision to avoid the indebtedness of students and their families. It is urgent to redirect higher education toward the aims established by international human rights law, focusing on the transformation of societies for democratic coexistence, equality and sustainable development.

These objectives can only be achieved with the recognition of decent teaching conditions, academic freedom and the continuous improvement of research, which can only be achieved with adequate public funding.

GCE also encourages governments and the international community to prioritise investment in education policies that address the specific needs of people affected by conflict, violence, human rights abuses and displacement within and across borders. We are currently witnessing the lack of higher education opportunities for female students in Afghanistan just because they are women. The world is also seeing a massive displacement of students from the war in Ukraine. Is the world, and in this particular case, European countries, ready to address the educational needs of those hundreds or perhaps thousands of university students who have been forced to abandon their studies? Can we anticipate immediate solutions for those hundreds of thousands of students from Africa, the Middle-East and Latin America who left university years ago because of conflict and war and who have never been able to resume their education?

All of these are questions that need an immediate answer from governments and the international community. More importantly, all these challenges demand their immediate and effective response. We all know well that education opens countless opportunities for personal and social development, however, the present state of education shows that we are leaving millions of learners behind and this very fact will irreversibly obstruct their opportunities and the enjoyment of their rights.

GCE also calls into attention the need to discuss the type of education our society deserves and advocates for an education that embraces diversity, creativity and in which students develop critical skills to question themselves and the society we live in. It is by promoting free will, respect for everyone’s human rights, respect for nature and the environment, and critical thinking that we all, as a global society, can expect to positively transform our education systems and address the ongoing and future challenges. 

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