Quotes and Excerpts
"Defining University Of the 21st Century"
A Special Report on International Education
By Barry James
See also International Baccalaureate Organization
The International Herald Tribune (10-12-98)
More than 100 education ministers, hundreds of university heads, professors, consultants, international officials and even a token smattering of students spent the past week trying to come up with a new description of a university for the 21st century, taking many thousands of words to do so.
The delegates at the world Conference on Higher Education were grappling with some particularly modern problems, such as the vastly increased numbers of higher-level students from 13 million worldwide in 1970 to more than 80 million today; the inability of governments to pay for such expansion; the irruption of information technology and the concept that education has to become a lifelong process to cope with the constantly changing needs of work and society.
The most passionate call for change came from the director-general of UNESCO, Federico Mayer of Spain. "Never before in human history have communities everywhere, and millions upon millions of individuals everywhere, attached such importance and value to education," he said. "We realize we need a 'learning world', to match the information society. And people are crying out for a truly learning world. One where each and every person has the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential. No one and I mean, quite literally, not one single person -- should feel they are sentenced to lifelong exile from the world of learning. It is a matter of human dignity. It is a matter of democracy".
Without a revolution in knowledge, Mr. Mayer added, the digital revolution could "only entrench inequality, injustice, exclusion."
The conference, which was organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, was preceded by five preparatory sessions in Havana, Dakar, Tokyo, Palermo and Beirut.
The World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century came up with some recommendations that are somewhat advanced in parts of the world.
"Admission to higher education will depend on the merit, capacity, efforts, perseverance and devotion showed by those seeking access to it, and can take place in a lifelong scheme, at any time, with due recognition of previously acquired skills," the ministers said. "As a consequence, no discrimination can be accepted for access to higher education concerning race, sex, language, religion economic or social distinctions, nor for physical disabilities."
The document also stressed that universities must have the role of promoting peace.
An accompanying "framework for priority action" insisted that students should be considered "among the main stakeholders of higher education" who should be associated "with the policy decisions and organization of management structures."
The ministers lamented the gap between the technology-rich North and the poor South.
The ministers also stressed that higher education must do better at preparing students for work to turn out job creators rather than unemployed graduates.
They also emphasized the role of universities in promoting civilization and human values. They must "exercise their intellectual capacity and moral prestige to defend and disseminate universally accepted values, such as peace, justice, freedom, equality and solidarity," the ministers said.