Original: French
Paris, July 1998










Challenges and tasks for the twenty-first century,
viewed in the light of the regional conferences


Working document




The missions of higher education

Interaction with the whole of society

Change - Lifelong education, diversification, flexibility

Access to higher education

Students and teachers

Autonomy and accountability, academic freedoms, objectivity and intellectual rigour    

Research and anticipation











The world has entered a phase of history of which change is an essential feature, but change that is radically different from that experienced in the past.

Beyond the geopolitical and political upheavals of the last ten years or so which have profoundly altered the international political scene, this change is civilizational in scope. It has three specific features: it is constant and uninterrupted; it is rapid and tending to accelerate; it affects the whole of the planet and practically every field and condition of individual and social life and activity. Everything is changing. The very nature of work is changing, with the intellectual element continually increasing while the manual element decreases. Economic activity is changing along with its technical bases and forms of organization, its structure, its needs and its requirements in terms of the knowledge and skills - those of its principal agent, the human being - necessary to the normal functioning of the economy, normal today implying development through continual change and innovation. New activities and kinds of activity are emerging and developing, while others are declining and tending gradually to die out. This change leads to a change in the need for skills in the different categories of the working population, and creates a need for occupational and social mobility and lifelong education and training.

This change is no less marked in the social field. The very structure of society is changing; the proportions of the different social groups making up the population are perceptibly evolving. New needs and new aspirations are coming to light. Changes in economic activity are transforming the conception and conditions of employment. The development of education and health services ultimately has major social consequences.

The roles of the different social agents are also changing. Expansion of the sphere of action of the diverse sectors and groups constituting what is known as civil society is a tendency apparent in an increasing number of countries and one that is extending to new fields. At the same time, the role of the State is evolving, its scope for direct intervention shrinking and the nature of its intervention changing in many cases. Over the past ten years or so, the progress of democracy has been undeniable, even though this remains slow and in many cases uncertain.

Customs, behaviour, lifestyles and relations between individuals, groups and the sexes are changing in their turn.

The revolution in the sphere of information and communication technologies has speeded up change tremendously. Its effects, already considerable in many fields, will continue to make a deep impact in other fields, education in particular, in which they are just beginning to be felt.

This transformation is characterized by contrasts. It is accompanied by increasing social polarization throughout the world, growing inequalities within nations and internationally, and a worsening of the situation in regard to poverty, unemployment, underemployment and exclusion. Fearsome new diseases are appearing at a time when we are having to contend with the re-emergence of diseases we thought we had conquered. The problem of environmental degradation remains unresolved. There is talk of a development crisis, and the gap between the industrialized countries and many developing countries continues to widen. The end of the Cold War did not bring universal peace. While it enabled a stop to be put to certain regional conflicts, the post-Cold War period has been marked by the proliferation of bloody civil wars between ethnic, religious and other groups, as well as other forms of violence, with their trail of death, devastation and mass population movements.

These problems, together with the persistence of violations of human rights in many countries, represent a challenge to human conscience and to all those for whom ethical principles mean something. They challenge all teachers, all educators, all education systems, and higher education in particular. Higher education, moreover, is the most directly concerned with the ethical problems posed by some of the possible applications of recent scientific advances. It is thus in the front line of efforts to safeguard ethics.

The impressive development of education in the latter half of the twentieth century, sometimes termed the 'education explosion', and the very significant rise in the average level of education of the world population constitute one of the major changes of global scope. Its impact in the economic, social, cultural and political fields is still far from being fully apparent. Eventually it will prove to be much greater than we imagine. It is the development of higher education - whose rate of expansion has been the most spectacular - that has been one of the decisive factors in the progress of education as a whole and the remarkable advance of knowledge. It is this development that, in the space of a few decades, has brought about an unprecedented increase in capacities for the advance and spread of knowledge and its practical applications and for technological innovation.

This great quantitative change over such a short period has not been accompanied by conceptual and qualitative changes of comparable scale and depth, appropriate to the new situations, requirements and needs. On the threshold of a new century, higher education must come to terms in its teaching, research and scholarship with the effects and consequences of the globalization (of communications and, as yet only partially, of trade) and internationalization of the life of societies, the development of information technologies, the rapidly evolving structure of employment needs and the steady increase in the demand for highly qualified personnel. At the same time, the need for refresher courses and further education to broaden general knowledge and occupational skills, and for career-change retraining, is becoming increasingly urgent, so that higher education has to be more responsive to this task and make it an integral part of its activities. 'Coming to terms with' means not just adjusting, but, above all, anticipating, influencing, guiding. Higher education must strengthen and target more effectively its contribution to sustainable and mutually supportive human development - in particular through sustained efforts to promote the sharing of knowledge, to the reduction of inequalities at the international and the national levels, to combating exclusion and unemployment, and to the eradication of poverty and the various forms of exploitation and discrimination.

The growing importance of knowledge in the world today and the ever greater numbers of people being trained at the higher level has increased higher education's responsibility to and its influence within society. In order fully to assume this responsibility and this role, higher education needs to change, as is clearly shown by the conclusions of the regional conferences on higher education held between 1996 and 1998 in Havana, Dakar, Tokyo, Palermo and Beirut and all the studies made in preparation for the World Conference. To that end, it needs the assistance and increased support of the whole of society, and of the State in particular.

Not the least of the contradictions and paradoxes that are a feature of the present era are those concerning higher education. Never has the expansion of education in general and higher education in particular been so necessary to society for its normal functioning, its development and its economic, social, cultural, moral and political well-being as it is at present. Yet society seems reluctant to give education, especially higher education, the resources that would enable it to fulfil its mission satisfactorily in the service of that society. If this contradiction is not overcome, its negative consequences will, in the twenty-first century, seriously affect the different sectors and diverse aspects of social life.

This situation is not unrelated to a tendency to approach questions of education and higher education as if educational institutions were economic entities producing marketable goods and services. It is with reference to this approach that George Papadopoulos speaks of 'the turmoil which has been created as a result of the application to education of the tenets of a free market philosophy based on choice and competition'.

It is important to dispel the ambiguities and confusion reigning here. The laws of the market and the logic of competition cannot be applied to education, including higher education. There is every justification for expecting education to use the resources made available to it as rationally as possible in the light of its purpose and tasks, and for higher education more particularly to be accountable to society. The financing of education, or of higher education, cannot however be subject to the criteria of the market and competition, whether between educational institutions or between such institutions and economic or other entities.

Education is not a branch of the economy, and neither the educational process, nor its ultimate purposes, nor its results or 'production', are comparable with those of the economy. It is in itself a vital function, an essential sector of society and a condition of society's existence. Without it there is no society. It has at one and the same time cultural, social, economic, civic and ethical functions. It concerns the whole of society and its various sectors, which all need it. It ensures the continuity of society, and passes on the knowledge and skills, the norms developed and the experience accumulated by humanity over the course of its history. It trains the capacities which enable society to move ahead, to progress, to innovate and to change, including in the economic sphere.

Unless it is to risk jeopardizing its normal functioning and progress, society cannot reduce its support for education by cut-backs. It should be doing the opposite, in view of the increasing importance to society of education in general and higher education in particular and the steady increase of the number of participants in the educational process.

The current worldwide trend towards a reduction in the role of the State in the economic field cannot be automatically extended to the field of education and cannot justify direct or indirect pressure for cuts in public expenditure on higher education and the transfer of a large part of the financial burden to families, which would only accentuate inequality of access to higher education. In the 1960s, some economists sought to demonstrate the high rates of return to society of the advanced levels of education systems, regarded as contributing directly to the training of the labour force and highly skilled human resources, and thereby to economic growth. They accordingly encouraged investment in these levels. For some time now, other economists have attempted to show that higher education yields low returns as compared with basic education, drawing conclusions for the distribution of public expenditure among the different levels of the education system.

In this connection, it is worth recalling the observation of one of the most eminent post-war economists, Sir William Arthur Lewis (Nobel Prize for Economic Science): 'From the economist's point of view, it is not difficult to define what one seeks in a school system - the right combinations of general and specialized education, of numbers at different age levels, and of different proportions of competence'. That was 30 years ago. And he went on to say, 'Neither is there conceptual difficulty in defining what is right by comparing costs with the market values of different combinations ... The biggest obstacle is that even the economist does not believe that market prices are the appropriate values to use. We cannot therefore avoid handing the problem over to those philosophers who deal in more fundamental values'. This example of wisdom and humility is worth pondering.

There is indeed a need to reflect on the consequences for a modern economy - with its high technicity and sophisticated technology, its need for innovation, in turn requiring continual progress in research and highly qualified personnel in the various fields, especially new fields, who need not only to keep their knowledge up to date but to progress, improve and innovate personally - if higher education with its 'low rates of return' were to have its resources cut back and were thus obliged to reduce staff costs, and hence enrolments and research work, and to abandon any idea of renewing facilities, laboratory equipment, etc.

We might then conclude that strictly economic criteria are a too narrow and inadequate basis on which to form a correct opinion as to the importance of higher education to society and even to the economy.

Account should also be taken of the fact that the great majority of the men and women whose activity will be a determining factor in shaping the twenty-first century are at present in higher education institutions, or will be educated there over the next few decades, and that the research conducted by those institutions will be at the root of many of the innovations that will carry the economy forward. How, then, can the 'returns' on higher education be measured? Ought we not to 'hand the problem over to those philosophers who deal in more fundamental values', as advised by Sir W. Arthur Lewis?


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The problems of higher education and education in general are one of the great challenges confronting society in the approaches to the twenty-first century. Higher education, for its part, is faced with the challenge of preparing itself to fulfil its mission adequately in a world in transformation and to meet the needs and requirements of twenty-first century society, which will be a society of knowledge, information and education.

For several years now, a great debate on the problems of higher education, organized and led by UNESCO, has been under way in various parts of the world. Numerous consultations and meetings have taken place, with the participation of academics, higher education decision-makers, students and representatives of their organizations and of various social actors. Five regional conferences, held from 1996 to 1998, mark a particularly important stage in the preparations for the World Conference scheduled for October 1998. This is the first time that UNESCO has led a worldwide debate and mobilization on such a scale in the field of higher education, and the results of this effort are already substantial.

To help structure reflection and discussion, the UNESCO Secretariat has proposed that the debate should be centred on four major themes - relevance, quality, management and financing, and co-operation. This approach limiting the proposed themes to a reasonable number was designed to prevent the debate from becoming too dispersed. As to the choice of themes, with relevance and quality leading the way, it has helped to bring out those issues that are essential for this period of history and which did not arise previously in connection with higher education, or not in the same terms (in particular, diversification, flexibility, anticipation, accountability, change and extension with a view to lifelong education for all, etc.) as well as to restate the perennial questions, which are also basic but which are assuming new dimensions (missions, democratization of access, autonomy and academic freedoms; research, teaching and educational functions; ethical, cultural and critical functions; relations and interaction with society and its principal actors; management and financing; co-operation, etc.).

The chosen approach will in this way have served to identify and specify the main problems, trends and challenges in the field of higher education, which are to a very large extent common to the various regions, thereby helping the World Conference to draw up the 'Agenda 21' for higher education, conceived as a crucial element in the overall activity of society in the field of education and for the advancement of knowledge.

This document is the result of an effort to identify, on the basis of a study of the texts adopted by the regional conferences held in Havana (November 1996), Dakar (April 1997), Tokyo (July 1997), Palermo (September 1997) and Beirut (March 1998), the issues concerning higher education regarded by them as important, and to bring out what their analyses, statements, positions adopted and recommendations reveal to be convergent or even common problems, trends, challenges and concerns, despite the great diversity of regional and national situations and the differences in the degree of development of higher education and education generally. The document is thus intended to help the World Conference formulate conclusions and recommendations which are of concern and interest to all the participants and which could serve as a basis for joint action. A study of the texts leads to the conclusion that there is much more convergence and similarity than one might think, in view of the differences from one region to another. For instance, it emerges from the texts adopted by the regional conferences that the questions set out in brackets above are of concern and interest to higher education in the different regions of the world.

These are the issues, in some cases grouped together, which constitute the themes of the chapters of the document, whose main conclusions and key points are briefly outlined below. Presented in summary form, the analyses, positions and recommendations of the regional conferences form the basis of each chapter. They have likewise prompted references to certain trends and the observations to be found in the different chapters.

The missions of higher education

(i) The paramount mission of higher education is to serve the human person and society.

(ii) Through its work of research and enquiry, its courses of study and training, its co-operative activities and its partnerships with various social actors, higher education is called upon to make a key contribution to opening up and highlighting new paths to a better future for society and the individual, and to give direction and shape to that future. The development of capacities to 'explore the future' and anticipate thus deserves the full attention of higher education.

(iii) From this standpoint, it has a twofold mission: (a) participating actively in the solving of major global, regional and local problems, such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy, social exclusion, the exacerbation of inequalities at international and national levels, the widening of the gap between industrialized and developing countries, and protection of the environment, and (b) working tirelessly, in particular by drawing up alternative proposals and recommendations, to promote: sustainable human development; the sharing of knowledge; universal respect for human rights; equal rights for women and men; justice and the application of democratic principles within its own institutions and in society; understanding among nations, and among ethnic, religious, cultural and other groups; a culture of peace and non-violence; and 'intellectual and moral solidarity'.

(iv) The traditional mission of maintaining, increasing and diffusing knowledge through research and intellectual creation, and teaching and spreading knowledge in various ways, is fundamental. It concerns science and technology and the social and human sciences and implies taking account of the needs of society and its economic, social and cultural development as well as of major world trends foreseeable for the years ahead. It includes the task of developing endogenous capacities for acquiring and applying existing knowledge and creating new knowledge. In regard to teaching proper, its task is to educate responsible, enlightened and active citizens and highly qualified specialists, while ensuring all-round education (Havana) and well-rounded individual development (Palermo), including sound training in both specialist and basic disciplines together with a good general education, and the task of helping students to learn to learn and to learn to be enterprising. This mission has an important ethical and civic aspect, for it means helping students to acquire knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and abilities that will incline them to act as responsible, committed citizens, in accordance with the mission of higher education outlined in paragraph (iii) above. It has yet another aspect which will in future become increasingly important - namely, the updating and improvement of knowledge and skills, and the further education or career-change retraining of graduates or non-graduates.

(v) One of the most important missions of higher education in society is its cultural and ethical mission. Higher education is required to preserve and assert cultural identity, promote the propagation and creation of cultural values, protect and encourage cultural diversity and participate actively in the development of intercultural understanding and harmony and the mutual enrichment of cultures. The transmission of cultural values, which is bound up with ethical considerations, should permeate all courses in higher education.

(vi) One of the major missions of higher education is to contribute to the implementation of lifelong learning for all, to become an essential element and driving force in such education and, to that end, to change and transform itself. With this in view, and more generally, higher education has a great responsibility in regard to the whole of the education system and educational activities in society. By strengthening its links with the different levels and forms of education, by stepping up its educational research, by strengthening and extending its training courses for education personnel and participating in the preparation, follow-up and evaluation of education policies and reforms, it has a role to play in helping attain the goal of education for all and in improving the quality and increasing the effectiveness of the educational process in its various aspects.

Interaction with the whole of society

(i) Constructive interaction of the principal social actors with higher education, with due respect for its purpose and its institutional autonomy, is becoming increasingly necessary to enable it to fulfil its missions to optimum effect. This presupposes that higher education is aware of the needs and aspirations of society and the various groups and of longer-term world trends. The interaction of higher education with the State, parliament and the government seems particularly important, as also with the world of work (terms used: world of work, productive sector, industry, service sector, business) and the media, which thus have a share of responsibility for the situation of higher education, its development, renewal and improvement.

(ii) Interaction presupposes that each party involved takes initiatives or action of interest to the other party or parties. Generally speaking, the effort required of higher education institutions to develop and optimize interaction with society as a whole is implicit in the missions of higher education, as these emerge from the texts adopted by the regional conferences.

(iii) As regards relations between higher education and the world of work, a keenly debated question worldwide, higher education has a responsibility to 'anticipate the signals of the world of work' and 'evaluate the possibilities of co-operation with the productive sector' (Havana), it being necessary to 'improve links with the world of work' (Dakar). Interactive partnerships with the productive sector must be encouraged by means of 'reactive and proactive approaches' (Tokyo). This presupposes adjustments in higher education courses 'to meet the needs of the workplace and ensure that new disciplines and specializations are incorporated into its content', and that higher education institutions play an active part in helping to shape the labour market by identifying, independently of the immediate economic interests of business, new local and regional needs and in setting up retraining and career-switching courses (Tokyo, Beirut). Higher education therefore has an active role to play and is called upon to act by anticipating the needs of society and the individual, by determining its long-term directions on the basis of social demand and not the labour market and manpower planning (Palermo). It should help students acquire, in addition to professional qualifications, a general education and transferable skills and competences so as to increase their employability in a knowledge society and broaden their knowledge of economic and social development. Interaction, and not just the systematic adaptation of higher education, partnership, and hence a relationship of equal partners and not subordination to the market, must characterize relations between higher education and the world of work. The state has an important role to play in encouraging such interaction.

(iv) For higher education, relations with the State and a constructive partnership with it are of the utmost importance. It is up to the State, in consultation with higher education, to implement policies and legislation establishing optimum conditions for the functioning and development of higher education, to respect and promote the autonomy of its institutions and academic freedoms, to help establish procedures making it easier for these institutions to be accountable to society for their activities and the use of the resources made available to them, and to temper the excesses of economistic approaches (Tokyo, Palermo, Beirut).

(v) Partnership is a key means of developing constructive interaction with the principal social actors, which should mobilize 'to bring about a fundamental change in higher education on the basis of the establishment of a new "social consensus" in order to help higher education institutions meet the needs of sustainable human development' (Havana). Constructive partnerships between these institutions and the government and the economic sector are crucial if higher education is to change (Palermo, Beirut). 'Real partnerships must therefore be set up with public and private institutions' (Dakar).

(vi) Active support to ensure that higher education has adequate resources, particularly financial, is a basic aspect in the relationship and interaction between it and the main social actors. Higher education's growing needs lead its institutions to seek additional sources of funding. Their efforts deserve the encouragement and support of society and, above all, of the authorities. Nevertheless, as higher education is 'a common good' (Havana), 'a public asset' (Tokyo), and has to play 'a key role in opening new futures' (Palermo), 'the State cannot but assume responsibility for its financing' (Havana); 'it should take the main responsibility for financing higher education' (Dakar, Tokyo); the government is supposed to ensure 'stable funding schemes' (Palermo); and 'the State should remain the main party responsible for funding higher education' (Beirut). This principle of state responsibility for the financing of higher education now has as its corollaries (i) the accountability of higher education institutions to society for their activities and for the use made of the resources it places at their disposal, and (ii) sustained imaginative efforts on the part of these institutions to obtain additional sources of financing and to undertake their own income-generating activities.

Change - Lifelong education, diversification, flexibility

(i) The acceleration in the advance of knowledge means that individuals must constantly update their knowledge. What is more, the advance of knowledge leads increasingly to technological innovations which disrupt the employment structure, create personnel needs in new fields and specializations, increase the needs in certain existing fields while in many cases altering the qualifications and skills required, and at the same time reduce or do away with personnel needs in certain fields and in certain traditional occupations. This twofold process, which will become more and more marked, makes it necessary for higher education constantly to update its courses and the range of subjects taught and to review the educational process so that it contributes to learning to learn and learning to be enterprising. Furthermore, it places higher education before the task of implementing both new courses of the traditional type and an increasingly wide variety of courses of new types for graduates or non-graduates who are seeking to update or refresh their knowledge and skills, to retrain, to change career or to broaden their general education. In many countries higher education has already applied itself to this task to varying extents, and some of its institutions have taken the initiative of establishing partnerships with companies and other social actors and organizing training courses for specific socio-economic or purely cultural purposes. However, it is now a question of regarding this activity as an organic function whose importance is bound to increase. Flexibility and the capacity to cope quickly enough with the evolution of needs, and to make the necessary internal changes, to anticipate this trend and help shape its direction, are becoming characteristics necessary to higher education if it is to accomplish its mission in society to the full.

(ii) Another socio-economic trend is a powerful factor in the expansion of higher education. On the one hand, an ever-increasing number and proportion of jobs and activities require knowledge and skills of a high level. Higher studies thus become necessary to fill these jobs, and the social demand for higher education is tending to increase continually as the role of advanced rational knowledge in human activity increases. On the other hand, in increasingly complex societies, participation in the political, social and cultural life of the city, the exercise of human rights, and everyday life which is also increasingly complex, incline and encourage young people and adults of all ages to broaden their general education throughout their lives and to acquire the knowledge and skills required in a knowledge society.

(iii) These processes have two major consequences, which are already operative and which will lead in the long run to a radical change in all educational activity in both quantitative and qualitative terms. First, together with the substantial expansion of secondary education, which has already become almost universal in the developed countries and is on the way to becoming so in a growing number of other countries, these processes are at the origin of growth rates in higher education even more spectacular than those in secondary education. Their combined effect, reinforced by the new opportunities opened up by the information and communication technologies for the widening of access to higher education, is resulting in a strong trend towards the generalization of higher education, either sooner or later according to the country. This generalization will not resemble that of secondary education and will not lead to direct promotion for all from secondary to higher education without a break. It means that practically everyone will go through one form or another of higher/post-secondary education, but at various stages in their lives. It will often happen in new and increasingly diverse ways, with increasingly varied, and even customized, study objectives, entry paths and chosen course lengths. The only solution will be to see higher education institutions as a place for lifelong education. In view of the nature of the factors which are at the origin of this tendency towards the generalization of higher education, which will benefit people at one period of their lives or another, the trend seems irreversible in the long run and stands out as one of the major challenges higher education and societies will have to meet in the twenty-first century. It is important that they consider this prospect and prepare for it with imagination and realism.

(iv) Secondly, in the light of the above-mentioned processes and trends, it is becoming necessary to rethink education as a whole, since none of its levels or forms, including higher education, can be regarded as truly final any longer, and since its structures and courses cannot remain fixed once and for all, but will have to evolve, vary and become more flexible in order to respond to the evolution of societies, needs and aspirations or, better still, to anticipate and help shape their direction. The great change that is imperative in the field of education is therefore its transformation with a view to the goal of lifelong education for all, defined in the Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education adopted by the UNESCO General Conference at its 19th session (1976) and presented and explained in the major reports prepared under UNESCO's auspices by two independent international commissions under the titles, 'Learning to be' (1973) and 'Learning: The Treasure Within' (1996). For higher education, from the institutional, functional and curricular standpoints, this radical change means its full integration in an overall project for continuing or lifelong education. 'The nature of present-day knowledge, owing to its constant renewal and breathtaking expansion, is in keeping with the concept of lifelong education'; 'the lifelong education model must be integrated without delay' (Havana). 'The concept of lifelong learning is of utmost importance' (Tokyo, Beirut). ' ... strong support is needed for the renewal of systems through new policies and new paradigms for higher education founded on such concepts as [...] lifelong education ...' (Tokyo). 'Lifelong learning for personal and professional development, for career change, transferable skills and to match supply and demand for highly trained personnel is essential' (Palermo).

(v) Diversification and flexibility in higher education - aspects that are closely interlinked - are a major feature of lifelong education. They relate, in particular, to objectives, access, course content, institutional structures, fields covered, course types and length, delivery systems, methods and techniques used and staff employed on teaching duties. Flexibility also means the capacity of institutions to meet new needs quickly, or even to anticipate them, to make structures flexible and fluid, to adjust entrance criteria to take account of experience in working life. Distance education, education at the workplace, and especially the new information and communication technologies, considerably extend higher education's opportunities to apply the concept of lifelong education. It is important that the authorities and the economic sector help it to equip itself with these technologies and that its institutions train their personnel to make full use of them for teaching, learning and research. For this, it is essential to step up international co-operation, on behalf of the developing countries in particular. UNESCO has an important task to carry out in this connection.

(vi) The prospect of a durable expansion of higher education and its integration into a comprehensive project of lifelong education for all, with all that this implies, makes it necessary for higher education institutions, governments and other social actors to mobilize and work together to devise measures to strengthen the admission capacities of higher education. It is important that these capacities correspond to the evolution, anticipated as far as possible, of successive entrance flows and match the diversity of students and their needs. Preparing the necessary measures entails providing the means, and in particular the funds. In this connection, while States are reminded - as they have been by the regional conferences - that it is their duty to provide higher education with the resources it needs, and while institutions are encouraged to seek additional sources of financing, it is recommended that a National Fund for higher education be set up in the countries which consider it appropriate. Such a Fund, which would be administered in accordance with the legislation obtaining in each State, would be maintained by contributions from all sectors, organizations and firms needing graduates and the services of higher education.

(vii) The changes to be made in higher education so that it can be fully integrated in a comprehensive project of lifelong education entail changes in other levels and forms of education: above all, secondary education. The trend towards generalization of the latter and the gradual opening of the traditional branches and courses to adults who have graduated from secondary schools or have the experience and knowledge required, together with the development in higher education of courses for adults - graduates or non-graduates, create a new situation. This situation is rapidly opening the way to a generalized possibility of entering higher education at various stages in life and not necessarily just after secondary education. This makes it possible and necessary to provide young people with an education that will enable them, on leaving secondary school, to choose freely between pursuing their studies without interruption or entering working life. This implies a twofold purpose for secondary education - preparing students to enter working life and at the same time preparing them to enter higher education.

This twofold purpose in turn implies considerable changes in the overall direction and content of secondary education, starting with general secondary education. Except in very few countries, most of the students at this level enter general secondary schools, which in most cases just prepare them for the pursuit of higher studies. In this connection, the trend observed here and there towards, on the one hand, including in general secondary education elements of applied science and some practical knowledge and skills and, on the other, strengthening general education and developing more transferable skills in technical and vocational courses - in other words, the tendency of general education and technical and vocational education to draw closer together - deserves to be actively supported. Admission to higher education of graduates from technical and vocational education, when this occurs, helps to consolidate this trend.

With this prospect in view, it becomes necessary to think in terms of a new approach to pre-university education for the twenty-first century, which would provide a redefined general education incorporating and bringing together literary, scientific and technological culture and offering a broad introduction to the main fields of human activity together with a good grounding in one of those fields. Secondary schooling would thus prepare students to enter higher education, while qualifying them to enter working life in their chosen field, including a wide choice of occupations, it being understood that those who chose to enter working life would retain the guaranteed right to resume their studies and take up traditional or other courses in higher education, their work experience being counted as an asset. This will clarify the educational and social role of secondary education and its specific identity; it will help to go beyond the dichotomy of general and vocational secondary education, integrating them better into the comprehensive project for lifelong education by attaching educational value to working experience and facilitating the interlinking of the world of education, including higher education, and the world of work.

By changing itself, higher education will trigger a change in the education system, more especially in secondary education. It will make for greater coherence and better 'vertical' and 'horizontal' continuity between the various levels and forms of education and will thus promote the contribution of the education system as a whole to the implementation of lifelong education.

Access to higher education

(i) Access to higher education is one of the fundamental educational questions. The conditions governing such access reflect in large measure national policies in regard to higher education and, in some respects, to education generally. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims in Article 26 (1) 'Everyone has the right to education [...] higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit'. In the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, Article 4.a, the states parties undertake to 'make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity'. And the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stipulates in Article 13, paragraph 2(c), that 'higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education'. The terms 'merit' and 'individual capacity' can be taken to mean - among other things - adequate preparation, demonstrated work drive and ability, and a clear and well-motivated choice in favour of higher studies in this or that field, practical experience constituting an asset. The term 'equally accessible' to all reflects the goal of equity, which is the first principle that should govern access to higher education. The International Covenant elaborates on this principle, adding 'by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education', in the first place for those who have the 'capacity' but not the 'means'. Those who have both the capacity and the means can pay all or a part of the cost. Those who have only the means must endeavour to acquire the merit and the capacity. In a democratic system - the only system in which higher education can be radically changed, this applies to both public and private institutions. And in both cases it is a matter not just for the authorities, but for society as a whole. Social stability is based on justice. And on the observance of human rights.

(ii) Nowadays, despite the significant broadening of access, inequalities still exist. Their origins are various - geographical, economic and social. They also include the persistent influence of elitism. These inequalities particularly affect women, rural populations and the various disadvantaged groups. They concern access to education, to the teaching profession and to posts of responsibility.

(iii) Reasons of equity, but also social and economic considerations and the goal of lifelong education for all, make it vital that there should be sustained and resolute efforts to widen and democratize access to, and increase rates of participation in, higher education. Everyone should be able, at any stage in life, to resume and pursue studies and have 'an opportunity of returning to university life' (Havana). It is important to extend and diversify opportunities for every citizen to benefit from higher education, skills and knowledge (Tokyo). Diversification of the demand implies institutional diversification, new policies and flexibility in regard to access (Palermo). Special measures are required to facilitate access for those who have entered working life or dropped out prematurely (Beirut). Goal-oriented policies (Dakar) are essential to increase the number and rate of participation of women in higher studies, in teaching and other responsible posts in higher education, as also in careers in science and technology. Special measures on behalf of various underprivileged groups are also necessary.

(iv) Open learning, distance education and the new information and communication technologies offer further opportunities of widening access to higher education, especially for new social categories. It is important to make full use of this potential for educational purposes. It devolves on the State and the higher education institutions to devise and implement specific policies to this end.

(v) The widening and democratization of access to higher education must today be conceived in the context of lifelong education for all, in the realization of which higher education has a crucial role to play. The diversification of institutions, of traditional-type courses, and above all of courses for updating or upgrading general and professional knowledge and skills and for retraining and career reorientation for graduates or non-graduates, make for wider and more flexible access and contribute to lifelong learning. This development creates conditions facilitating renewed access at various stages in life, and not necessarily just after completion of secondary studies. It thus changes the composition of the higher education population from the standpoint of age and socio-occupational category, the student body being likely to include an increasing proportion of adults with experience of working life and greater maturity.

(vi) A concern for equity requires the implementation of specific policies providing for economic, social and educational measures upstream - as it were - of the educational process, so as to improve the chances of success of many children from disadvantaged environments and modest backgrounds and enable them to acquire the necessary preparation for proceeding to higher education, thereby ensuring that society benefits from all the potential resources of intelligence and talent of the population.

Students and teachers

(i) Students and teachers are the main protagonists in higher education, particularly in the teaching/learning process. Their interaction is central to the activities of higher education institutions. The development of the new information technologies opens up possibilities barely imaginable not so long ago for teaching and learning and for the diversification of higher education, and it is significantly changing the roles of teacher and student in the educational process as well as the characteristics of that process. Nevertheless, it does not lessen the importance of direct human contacts, between student and teacher and among students themselves. The student/teacher contact creates a relationship which becomes an active and often determining factor in the quality and the results of the teaching/learning process.

(ii) The right to be a 'teacher of higher education' or a 'student' must be earned.

(iii) Any society that thinks about its future should attach the utmost importance to everything concerning students - their education and training, their state of mind, their aspirations and needs, the values that inspire them, their living and working conditions. In a rapidly and radically changing world, it is essential for students to acquire, in the course of their studies, qualities such as the capacity to analyse complex situations, creativity, initiative, an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of responsibility, along with a good general education, a sound training in the basic disciplines of their chosen field and skills as transferable as possible in order to enhance their employability, as well as the qualities of active citizens with a sense of human solidarity so as to enable them to become autonomous and direct their own lives and make a useful contribution towards a better future for society. It is therefore important that students be encouraged to play an active role in higher education institutions, that this role be recognized, as also that of their organizations, that they be allowed to participate in the framing of policies and decision-making concerning higher education and the designing of courses (Havana, Dakar, Tokyo, Palermo, Beirut), and thus have a hand in shaping their own education. Such participation is necessary for their well-rounded development (Palermo). At the same time, they should have the benefit of guidance and counselling services, remedial classes, an introduction to research, and measures enabling them to improve their living conditions.

(iv) Everything that concerns students interests teachers and vice versa. The academic qualifications of teachers, their ability to teach, their working and living conditions, their human and moral qualities and their general educational background have a crucial influence on the results of the teaching/learning process and the general and specialized education of students. The teacher is the cornerstone of any higher education system. The spectacular expansion of higher education, its evolution in the direction of lifelong education and the diversification of its institutions and courses, of its delivery systems, of the needs it will have to meet, of the ages and experience of its students, change the traditional role of the teacher and diversify the teacher's tasks accordingly, calling for the development of new approaches to teaching. With the faster progress of knowledge and techniques, this makes teaching more complex, but also more stimulating. Among other things, the ability to use the new information technologies for teaching and research is becoming increasingly necessary in the teaching profession. The question of the education and further education of teachers in higher education, including their professional education, is taking on new aspects and increased importance, and specific measures, including the setting up of special facilities and networks, seem necessary for this purpose (Havana, Dakar, Tokyo, Beirut). The participation of teachers in research and the linking of teaching and research are also becoming essential to ensure the quality and effectiveness of higher education, to contribute to the progress of knowledge and to develop endogenous capacities for research and R&D (Havana, Dakar, Palermo, Beirut). The participation of the teachers in the working out of policies and course contents for higher education, as in decision-making concerning it, is essential if it is to run smoothly, but also if it is to change. Participation must be increased and the teachers' needs must be taken into account. The improvement of teachers' living and working conditions is a task that concerns many countries and deserves the full attention of the governments and the whole of society. The implementation of policies concerning higher education teaching staff, their initial and further education, their recruitment, careers, working and living conditions, is an essential aspect of any higher education policy. The UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel might serve as a useful guide for the framing and implementation of such policies.

(v) The academic mobility of teachers and students at the national, regional and international levels is an important factor in their education and personal development, in the sharing of knowledge, in the mutual appreciation of cultures and intellectual and moral solidarity, in bringing peoples closer together and, at regional level, in regional integration. The encouragement of academic mobility by governments and higher education institutions should be a part of national educational, scientific and cultural policies. Application of the regional conventions and of the International Recommendation on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees and the development of networks of institutions are regarded as important in this connection (Havana, Dakar, Tokyo, Palermo, Beirut).

Autonomy and accountability, academic freedoms, objectivity and intellectual rigour

The academic freedoms of higher education institutions and their wide autonomy - which have to be strengthened and protected - are essential if these institutions are to carry out their mission. Autonomy presupposes accountability to society. Institutional autonomy and academic freedoms are necessary for the effective functioning of the higher education system, for the strengthening of its capacity to change and anticipate, for the carrying out of its watch-tower or observatory functions, for the assertion of its moral authority in the debate on the great ethical problems and the major issues of global significance, but also for its development as a place where democracy can be practised and promoted. It must be added that the academic freedoms which, in a way, serve as a justification and basis for the critical function of higher education presuppose the observance of certain principles and norms, while laying upon higher education institutions the duty of objectivity, impartiality and intellectual rigour.

Research and anticipation

Research is a fundamental mission (Dakar) and a major function of higher education. Higher education institutions contain a large proportion of the personnel educated for intellectual creation - in many countries the majority of such personnel. It is therefore essential that this potential be turned fully to account, not only for teaching purposes, but also in order to contribute through research in science and technology and in the social and human sciences (Havana, Palermo) to the advance of knowledge, to the creation of new knowledge, to cultural development and fulfilment, to the solving of the problems with which society is faced, to sustainable human development and to the spreading of the ideas of peace, democracy and protection of the environment (Havana, Dakar, Tokyo). This is the duty, the responsibility and the function of higher education and its personnel, the teaching personnel in particular. Ethical considerations should be taken into account in research work (Palermo, Beirut).

Research and intellectual creation are necessary to ensure education of a high standard that is up to date and to develop a critical, innovative approach, creativity, the desire to advance, not to be content with what one already knows.

Co-operation in a wide diversity of forms among higher education institutions at the national, regional and international levels - in particular through the creation and development of networks, and appropriate interaction with other social actors, public and private - are means of supporting and furthering research. UNESCO and the regional organizations, as well as the international and regional specialized non-governmental organizations, have a special responsibility in the promotion of such co-operation.

Higher education institutions must have sufficient resources for research. The State has a major responsibility in the funding of research, but other social actors (national and international firms, public or private, foundations, associations, etc.) also have a duty to aid these institutions. For their part, the institutions must be prepared to account for the use made of the resources, and to seek for themselves new sources of financing.

Anticipation is an important task of higher education. What is involved is anticipating the needs and requirements of the future and not merely adapting to those of the present. In order to perform this task, higher education must strengthen its own capacity for anticipation. Thinking ahead and forecasting must inspire its courses and research work, and likewise its management. Anticipation will enable higher education to play an active role in society, particularly in regard to the new social and environmental needs, as well as in the field of education generally, and to help society shape the future and master its own destiny.

The importance of this anticipatory role, which the regional conferences recognize as belonging to higher education and which extends beyond the field of education, is bound to increase. For higher education institutions, and first and foremost universities whose staff are more multidisciplinary than anywhere else, it is a major challenge they have to take up in pursuit of their pathfinding mission.