Expert Meeting
Impact of Globalisation on Quality Assurance, Accreditation and the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education

UNESCO, Paris, 10-11 September 2001

Introductory Remarks (Video) by John Daniel
Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

Bonjour! C'est un grand plaisir de vous souhaiter la bienvenue, au nom de l'UNESCO, á cette rencontre de spécialistes que nous avons convoquée afin de contribuer à l'évolution de notre pensée sur le développment de l'enseignement supérieur face à la mondialisation. Je vous sais gré d'avoir accepté de vous joindre à nous pour ces deux journées de discussion.

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this Expert Meeting and to thank you warmly for agreeing to take part. I must apologise for bidding you welcome by video rather than in person. Unfortunately September is a very busy month in the Education sector at UNESCO and today I have two particularly regrettable diary conflicts.

Our top priority for UNESCO over the coming years is to support the worldwide programme of action aimed at achieving Education for All. This programme was agreed at the World Forum held in Dakar, Senegal last year.

Today and tomorrow I am chairing a Working Group on Education for All made up of governmental representatives, NGOs and other international agencies. Its task is to make an annual assessment of progress towards Education for All and to recommend any revisions to the strategy and action plan that may prove necessary.

I fear that if I try to divide my time between that meeting and this one I will end up doing justice to neither, so I am going to leave you in the capable hands of Mr Seddoh and my UNESCO colleagues. I should also note in passing another clash of dates. Today is International Literacy Day and we shall be holding an event, here at UNESCO to mark that annual event.

There are, of course, direct linkages between UNESCO's preoccupation with Literacy and Education for All and your work on higher education. The fundamental aim of the Education for All programme is to put an end to the shameful situation whereby over 200 million of the world's children do not get a basic education. Equally scandalous are the figures for adult illiteracy. The 800 million adult illiterates, one in four of the adult population of our planet, are also a target for action.

To the extent that the global community succeeds in providing Education for All it will increase even further the demand for higher education, which is already estimated to reach some 150 million students by the year 2020. The basic aim of this expert meeting is to help ensure that these people can study within an institutional framework that gives due recognition to their achievements and reduces to a minimum the obstacles to study.

The purpose of my opening remarks, beyond welcoming you and stressing the importance that UNESCO attaches to this meeting, is to comment on the context and purpose of this work. As context I simply quote from UNESCO's strategy document for the next six year period which says:

A new challenge today is to build consensus on newly required norms and principles to respond to emerging ethical challenges and dilemmas as a result of globalisation. (…) The growing commercialisation of many spheres previously considered as public goods, such as education, culture and information, jeopardises weaker, economically less powerful mechanisms of control and demands new approaches to the protection of the rights of the individual. Overall there is a need to agree on universally accepted mechanisms to ensure equitable participation in and management of globalisation. There are currently very few rules of the game and unless universally agreed frameworks can be defined, the poor and the weak will continue to be denied the benefits of globalisation. Globalisation must be made to work for all.

I'm sorry if that is a bit wordy, which has tended to be UNESCO's style, but you get the idea and you can key that statement to the excellent introductory paper that Professor Dirke Van Damme has produced for us.

If that is the general issue, what is UNESCO's role? The same document says we are to be:

A laboratory of ideas; a standard-setter; a clearinghouse; a capacity-builder in Member States and a catalyst for international co-operation.

Today's meeting involves several of these functions. An international market in higher education is developing and some are looking to UNESCO as a forum for discussion of these issues, and notably for the promotion of higher education as a public good, especially in developing countries and countries in transition.

In stressing our role as a forum for discussion I want to emphasise at the outset that UNESCO has no ambitions to become an international accrediting body for higher education. That would be entirely inappropriate.

Professor Van Damme points out that one of the key challenges in attempts to address accreditation internationally is legitimacy. Consortia of universities and consortia of private companies can each be accused of lacking either objectivity or universality. In my view a multi-governmental body like UNESCO would have insuperable problems of both legitimacy and effectiveness if it became a vehicle for making judgements about institutions in member states.

In fact I do not expect this meeting to spend much time on the issue of an international accrediting body. As Professor Van Damme also notes, there are plenty of knotty issues before you get to that. Indeed, one of your challenges, it seems to me, is to develop a staged work plan that addresses soluble problems in a sequential manner.

In this area, more than most, it is necessary to proceed in a deliberate fashion, taking great care to define terms and clarify one issue before going on to the next. That makes it sound like a long process and I am sure that it will be a long process. However, I also believe that, just as in any form of strategic planning, the process itself, if done well, can be as important as the final product.

I am pleased to observe that much preliminary work on theses issues has already been done, and many of you have played key roles in that work. I refer particularly to the studies of borderless education that have scoped the issues and the work that has been done in the different regions of the world to develop conventions on degree recognition and quality assurance. Those of you who are involved in accreditation and quality assurance in higher education on a daily basis have also contributed much to defining the challenges we are trying to address.

It is against this background that I encourage you to explore, for the world as a whole, the international dimensions of quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of qualifications. I hope that you will examine the feasibility of establishing an international forum for dialogue among the different stakeholders: nation states; the private sector; traditional and non-traditional higher education institutions; students, and so on.

The expertise and experience that you bring together will allow for a broad exchange of views, combining a global perspective with specific regional and national concerns.

You will be interested to know that there is a precedent for this type of work, although without the scale and scope of the challenge that globalisation presents to us today.

Back in 1970, partly as a result of an article by Jessica Mitford in The Atlantic Monthly, there was widespread international concern about the practices of some of the commercial providers of correspondence education. At the time UNESCO got involved, along with others, in developing guidelines of good practice.

In those days the main focus was the protection of consumers, that is to say students, from unscrupulous providers and practices. That remains a major concern as education globalises today, although we also have to be concerned with the protection of society as a whole from the issuing of qualifications that are not based on the knowledge and skills that they purport to reflect.

I am grateful to Professor Van Damme for his excellent paper, which lays out the issues in a very stimulating way and will, I am sure provoke some lively discussion.

I myself recognise many of the issues he raises from my own previous experience. For example, I hold degrees and diplomas from universities in three countries - or four jurisdictions if you count the provinces of Canada separately - so I was an example of globalisation in education before the word was coined.

Then in my last job at the UK Open University we had some 30,000 students outside the UK which meant that issues of degree recognition and cultural appropriateness were my daily bread.

Also, during my time at the Open University we were asked to take over a national accrediting body, the Council for National Academic Awards or CNAA, which became Open University Validation Services. That gave me further insights, particularly when institutions from overseas began to approach us for accreditation.

Finally, my recent experience of setting up the United States Open University has been a particularly rich case study of the issues that Professor Van Damme has identified. The United States Open University is a private, not-for-profit provider of distance education in the USA. In that context it operates alongside, and competes with, various new for-profit higher education institutions in that country. However, since the USOU was set up by the UK Open University, it is very strongly motivated by the ideal of higher education as a public good.

Furthermore, although the UK Open University has now established itself at the top of the league tables of quality in higher education in the UK, it was necessary for the USOU to go through the American accreditation process since it is an American institution. In fact the USOU has submitted itself to two American accreditation processes, one at the national level focused on distance education and one at the regional level focused on conventional universities.

The difference between the two processes has been striking, with one concentrating on the student experience and the other focusing on the institutional framework. My USOU colleagues have found it very enriching, as well as rather demanding, to take on these two processes. However, it has made me realise that you can have very different approaches to quality assessment and accreditation, each valid in its own way.

These processes have also made me realise that, when it comes to trade liberalisation, higher education is not a product like bananas or cars. Any kind of framework for international trade requires countries to yield a degree of jurisdiction. Quite often, of course, those countries which promote liberalisation most vocally are also the most reluctant to give up any kind of jurisdiction. This will be a challenge for higher education, not so much for countries perhaps as for individual institutions.

At the end of the day I believe that the individual university must stand behind the quality of its degrees and awards. This means that individual universities need to have full confidence in any international agreements and arrangements to which they are asked to subscribe. This is another argument for working on these issues slowly, carefully and deliberately.

They are, however, very important issues and I shall be proud if UNESCO can provide a forum for progressing them at the international level. I shall of course, be particularly interested in learning what you think that UNESCO can most usefully do to help so that we can include it in our work plan for the biennium.

So, let me once again apologise for not being with you in person. It is my loss because I would have much enjoyed being part of your discussions. However, I look forward to catching up later with your conclusions and to being more directly involved in the subsequent work.

I wish you two productive days in Paris and I thank you for giving your time to this endeavour. I hand you over to my colleagues.

Thank you