unesco05062009_001.jpgboletiniesalcinforma.jpgIESALC REPORTS SPECIAL EDITION No 193

With the participation of more than a thousand delegates from 70 countries, the II World Conference on Higher Education began this Sunday in Paris, France. Officially tittled "The New Dynamics of Higher Education and Research for Societal Change and Development", the conference was called by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

The Director General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, emphasized in his speech the positive leap in student registration at institutions of higher education throughout the world. He noted, nevertheless, that "in spite of this growth, higher education still very far from being universal".

According to the report on Global Education, recently published by the Statistical Institute of UNESCO, nearly fifty two million students (51.7) around the world entered institutions of higher education and nearly three million (2.8) study outside their country of origin.

The speakers that followed, like Jill Biden, wife of the vice president of the United States and educator, and others, emphasized the importance of education as a tool to achieve a more just, less impoverished world, with more possibilities to advance toward sustainable development.

"How can we achieve a better understanding between countries and cultures? How can we reduce the poverty, the hunger and disease? How can we combat climate change and reduce the use of energy? Protect the environment and fortify our economies? All these are very different problems, but they have a solution in common: the education", said Mrs. Biden.

The Secretary General of the Organization for Development and Economic Cooperation, ODEC, Miguel Angel Gurría, warned of the dangers that the current global economic crisis poses to the educational needs of less developed countries at every level of education.

"There are still too many high school drop-outs, which prevents students from being better prepared, having success in high school and advancing towards higher education", said Gurría.

The purpose of this meeting in Paris is to achieve an international agreement to put in motion a series of actions to guarantee that higher education plays a fundamental role in the creation of knowledge and the advancement towards a more inclusive future based on development.

One of the themes which will be emphasized at the Conference is the rapid increase in higher education registration in Africa. The matriculation of new students to universities and other institutions of higher education has increased 66% in the last 10 years, but only 5% of youths have access to such institutions, which represents an obstacle for the reduction of poverty and weakens the capacity of African nations to strengthen development and implement reforms.

This Second Conference is being celebrated eleven years after the First World Conference on Higher Education. The participants are hoping to reaffirm the importance of higher education in facing global challenges such as the eradication of poverty and sustainable development, and, at the same time improving the access, equality and quality of educational opportunities.

The WCHE 2009, as it has been called, takes place in Paris from now until July 8 at UNESCO's headquarters.

IESALC Reports/ Jose Baig de Paris