Now, you may wonder what the United Nations (UN) organization has to do with higher education? However, not many know but the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the only UN agency that has a duty towards providing support to all member nations regarding higher education.
Currently, the UNESCO targets, according to their Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 states, “by 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational, and tertiary education, including university.” Their work is based on helping implement proven higher education policies.
Higher education is one of the best tools against poverty and is extensively used by the UN to uplift women, and racial and social minorities. However, even though there is a lot of money and resources at the UN’s disposal, there have been a few hits & misses regarding higher education policies.
UNESCO Qualifications Passport (UQP)
Launched in Iraq, the UQP was meant to be a part of outreach to the refugee community. The program ensured better opportunities for employment and higher education. So far, refugees and vulnerable people were only given basic education, but with this program, the focus was changed. With the help of support from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), and evaluation experts from the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR), the programme’s workshops were conducted for 2 months and made a huge impact for the refugee community. The project also received help from Dubai Cares and Norway.
Out-Of-School-Children (OOSC) in Asia-Pacific
The Economic Advisory Council (EAC) joined hands with UNESCO in 2012 to increase the participation of children in education in countries like Thailand, Myanmar, and Lao PDR. The policy further covered other countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Timor-Leste.
This programme was a strong success with 187,353 students getting enrolled into school by the year 2017. With the focus now shifting to higher education, most of these students after completing their school education would be eligible for higher education.
Egypt – Higher Education Digitization Project
Digitization is one of the most important steps in higher education, and the last couple of years of lockdowns has only increased its importance. UNESCO is now helping faculty members of Egypt University completely digitize their curriculum. Along with making digital access easier, and low dependency on physical classrooms, this will also help the university create online programmes for students located all over the world.
Egypt University, which is a prestigious university, will now be able to provide higher education to students who lack good higher education opportunities in their country. UNESCO was in charge of handling the digital infrastructure, providing adequate support to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Universities. Almost 700 courses have been digitized, including their dissemination. The success of this project may spark many more UNESCO higher education digitization projects.
In the year 2000, 164 nations came together in Dakar, Senegal to launch the mission, ‘Education for All’. The main goal of this campaign was to make basic education accessible to children and adults. So, this would ensure education rates in primary, high school, and higher education would also get better. All member nations promised to make education free and accessible to all. A strict target of 15 years was also set to make nations more proactive. But alas, this programme was a failure in poor, unstable states. The campaign failed to look at the shortcomings and made the error of assuming all nations will be able to allocate similar types of resources.
In 2016, the Washington Post conducted their own study in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see if EAF goals had been achieved. Here’s what they found out:
- The promise of free education was not fulfilled. Yes, in September 2010, the government did announce that there will be no school fees from the new academic year but did nothing to help implement it.
- DRC government did not increase the budget on education spending.
- Schools were not given any grants or subsidies.
- There was chaos immediately after the announcement.
- Schools quickly reverted to taking school fees.
- 75% of the parents were bearing children’s school education fees.
- The programme failed to see that unstable states like DRC have a higher youth population but a lower ability to collect taxes. The DRC spends only 2% of its GDP on education. This story is the same in many other unstable, poor countries.
- There was a massive disparity in budgets allocated for teacher salaries. For example, the capital city, Kinshasa uses 22% of the teachers’ salary budget but has only 4% primary students’ population of the country; whereas Kivu province has 15% of the primary-level student population but gets only 7% of the teachers’ salary budget.
- Areas with the least government help have the least school enrolment numbers, so even if the government had been able to properly manage the zero school fees policy, it still would not have had a huge impact.
The implementation of EAF in poor, unstable countries is one of the rare failures of the UN, but they are an organisation that learns from its mistakes and are now successfully implementing tried & tested primary and higher education programmes that will make a huge difference in the state of education around the world.
Communications and Alumni Relations Department
Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal