Global higher education finds itself at a crossroads

Global higher education finds itself at a crossroads unimaginable at the turn of the century when the world basked in the possibilities of globalisation, democratisation and multilateralism.

Society is currently reeling from the multiple crises of climate change and loss of biodiversity, deepening inequalities, glaring developmental deficits, alarming democratic recessions, intolerant populisms, rising competitive imperialisms and persistent armed conflicts.

Higher education is facing its own reckoning: expansion with enduring disparities, changing funding approaches, technological disruptions, uneven internationalisation, rising complexity of accountability frameworks, and intensifying struggles over the epistemic scaffolding that has long sanctioned exclusions of vast segments of global knowledges, created imagined hierarchies of humanity, histories of oppression, exploitation and marginalisation, reproduction of social inequalities, and the enduring fixations with economic growth, consumption and avarice at the expense of nature.

A new social contract is required for higher education as part of a new compact of human solidarity and ecological sustainability.

Under such a contract higher education becomes a global public good to advance ecological, intercultural, interdisciplinary, international and information literacies, as well as collaborations and partnerships within and among institutions and countries across the global divides of North and South.

It must embrace the human rights principles of equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice, solidarity, and respect for life, human dignity, interconnectedness and collective responsibility.

It also must uphold enduring and newly established principles of inquiry, critical thinking and creativity, academic freedom and shared governance, inclusion, equity and pluralism, integrity and ethics, commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, and excellence through cooperation rather than competition.

These are the issues I would like to explore below. My remarks draw from several of my own publications on the politics of knowledge production including the persistent marginalisation of African knowledges, as well as some key studies produced in preparation for the third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, held from 18 to 20 May 2022 in Barcelona, Spain, that offer a condensation of current global thinking on the future of higher education.

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