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GLOBAL: More than 1,000 delegates arrive in Paris

UNESCO's World Conference on Higher Education 2009 opened in Paris last week. The 1,000-plus delegates from governments, national, regional and international organisations, and individual higher education institutions arrived to tackle the new dynamics of higher education and research. As official media representative for the conference, University World News provided daily reports.

The 1,000-plus delegates from governments, national, regional and international organisations, and individual higher education institutions will tackle the new dynamics of higher education and research, in particular shaping strategies for societal change and development.

As the official media representative for the conference, University World News will provide daily reports on its webpage.

UNESCO regards the 1998 world conference as a historic landmark in defining the core dimensions of higher education in society at the outset of the 21st century, with many of the questions raised at that time still valid and not in need of recasting a decade later.

During this conference, the emphasis will be on selected themes designed to identify directions for change and improvement that will be of practical use to decision-makers at system and institutional level. Three broad sub-themes will be addressed in parallel sessions: internationalisation, regionalisation and globalisation; equity, access and quality; and learning, research and innovation.

Each theme will be examined from a variety of angles, including public and private roles and responsibilities, the emergence of new models and approaches, and the possibilities offered by ICTs and open and distance learning, implications in terms of funding and investment, and in terms of governance and management.

Key issues that have emerged from debates at six regional meetings over the past year are the social responsibility of higher education, the social commitment to higher education, Sub-Saharan Africa, internationalisation and globalisation, the balance between access, equity and quality, and learning, research and innovation. The regional events were arranged to bring specific regional concerns, expectations and proposals to the 2009 conference.

In Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in June last year, the Latin America and Caribbean regional conference underlined the need for education that effectively contributes to democratic relations, to tolerance, and to creating a spirit of solidarity and cooperation that makes up a continental identity, that creates opportunities for those who today do not have them, and that contributes, with the creation of knowledge, to the social and economic transformation of our societies.

"In a continent with countries that are emerging from the terrible democratic crisis provoked by dictatorships, and that, most unfortunately, exhibits the greatest inequalities on the planet, human resources and knowledge will be the major wealth of all," the communiqué stated.

From the Asia and Pacific conference in Macao last September, there was a concern the world should benefit from the region's long experience in sending students to other countries for higher education in the light of recent concerns about how higher education was becoming a commodity. This was echoed in the South, South West and Central Asia conference in New Delhi in February, when delegates acknowledged internationalisation as reflected in the form of increased mobility and recommended regulatory frameworks to ensure optimum benefits, mutual collaboration and equal partnerships.

Last November in Senegal, African delegates called on their national governments to make enough money available to higher education, encourage cost-sharing or cost-recovery and diversification of funding sources, and establish an African Higher Education Trust Fund to supplement governments and institutions to expand and strengthen higher education.

In May, the Europe and North America regional conference in Bucharest, described the financial and economic crisis as partly due to a departure from basic values of societal cohesion and sustainable development. Delegates agreed on an urgent need to redefine these values in the context of multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies and to teach and practise them in all institutions of higher education, introducing "globalisation with a human face" as the leitmotiv of efforts to achieve a peaceful and sustainable world without hunger and poverty.

Finally last month, the Cairo Declaration from the Arab Regional conference included a series of nine broad recommendations all 17 countries agreed with, and proposed an Arab year for science, technology, and inventions, each year celebrated in a different Arab nation.

UNESCO expects a new commitment to the development of higher education and research systems better able to respond to changing labour market needs and to the growing and multiple demands of society will emerge from the Paris conference.

It hopes this will ensure more concerted and effective cooperation to meet the challenges of sustainable human development where the enhanced creation and sharing of knowledge and know-how are essential factors.

The conference will also pay special attention to African higher education and will propose an action plan to support its revitalisation in cooperation with African and other partners.

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