GLOBAL: Universities must drive development goals

Future national and global development goals should recognise the role of higher education, and universities in both developed and developing countries should draft clear strategies and share expertise more effectively to support the Millennium Development Goals, vice-chancellors from across the Commonwealth declared in Cape Town last Tuesday.

The declaration was made at the end of the Universities and the Millennium Development Goals conference of the Association of Commonwealth Universities executive heads, held from 25-27 April at the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

The declaration said universities strongly supported the eight Millennium Development Goals , or MDGs, developed by the United Nations and agreed in 2000 by most countries around the world.

The goals are set for 2015 and pledge to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV-Aids, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and forge global partnership for development.

"The conference has heard concrete examples of how universities contribute towards these in areas as diverse as poverty, agriculture, water sanitation, environment and sustainability, food security, gender equality, conflict resolution, education and health care," the vice-chancellors said.

Indeed, universities had been working on international development issues long before the MDGs and continued to do so by providing quality teaching, research that directly addressed the needs of society, community service and extension work, and skills, data and networks through which developing countries were able "to express and address their own needs".

But the ability of universities had been seriously undermined by the failure of governments and donors to recognise the value of their work.

The declaration made six recommendations. First, development goals should recognise the role of higher education. Second, universities should forge clear strategies and share expertise to enable them to more effectively support the MDGs.

Third, governments should ensure incentives were available to encourage research that supported the goals. It should be recognised such research often required a multi- or trans-national approach, giving regard to collaborative research and publications.

Fourth, universities should regularly review curricula to ensure graduates had the skills and attitudes to contribute to attaining the MDGs and sustainable development. Fifth, governments and donors should provide additional funding for universities "to further embed knowledge transfer, research utilisation and community service at the institutional level".

Finally, the vice-chancellors said measures should be put in place to record and monitor the contribution of universities, using existing international structures such as the ACU.

"Commonwealth universities are determined to play their part on these critical issues," the declaration stressed. "We call on governments and inter-governmental bodies to create the conditions through which this contribution is appropriately resourced and recognised."