Richard Mawditt OBE on UNESCO, OECD commitment to HE

As one of your more mature readers I welcome Philip Altbach’s commentary of 30 June on the demise of UNESCO’s and OECD’s commitment to higher education policy matters and debate.

His well-chosen words in firing carefully aimed bullets I sincerely hope will be a wake-up call to those two important agencies that have, as Philip says, “largely left the field of higher education, creating a considerable vacuum”.

I, for one, hope this “unfortunate abdication” and “lack of convening authority” can be reversed, as there do not appear to be alternatives lining up on the horizon that have the global command and stature in the international field of education needed to counter what has evaporated, no doubt due to the restricted capacity to maintain and evolve what Philip Altbach has identified as being critically missing.

To my advantage, I have much to be grateful for from the two UNESCO World Conferences on Higher Education (1998 and 2009) and the many productive OECD/IMHE events of the 1970s and 1980s (that dates me!).

So I am as eager as Philip to see a resurrection or a new kid on the block (for example, the Qatar Foundation) to rekindle the voice and knowledge base that has evaporated on global higher education policy issues.

However, it will need a significant investment of resource provision and person capacity to move into a high gear again, technology providing the urgent turnaround facility to make it happen quickly. And of course it will need political willpower.

For my part, I will keep up my vigil, in my advancing years, of prompting UNESCO. There is a glimmer of hope that UNESCO Chairs, of which I am one, are responding to many (alright perhaps some!) of the key points Philip rightly makes.

There is a meeting convened in September in Paris with an agenda that hopefully gives time and intent to addressing what Philip describes higher education as “…more than ever needing: ‘thinking capacity’, analysis of contemporary issues, and ‘convening authority’ for conversations and debates”.

I hope UNESCO can find it opportune to respond to Philip Altbach in a positive way, at least to some extent. We live in hope but not with high expectations!

Professor Richard Mawditt OBE
UNESCO Chair in Higher Education Management
University of Bath
United Kingdom

Editor’s note

Philip Altbach’s 30 June 2013 commentary, titled “Long-term thinking needed in higher education”, was followed on 7 July by a response from Deborah Roseveare, head of the Skills Beyond School Division in the directorate for education and skills at the OECD, titled “OECD more engaged than ever with higher education”.