Paris, 27 November - UNESCO has concluded this week its General Conference after adopting a draft Convention to facilitate student mobility between universities on five continents, and having been entrusted with the task of elaborating ethical rules in the development of artificial intelligence. The General Conference, UNESCO's governing body, meets every two years to establish the Organization's programme and budget.
"We are entering a new era, one of new breath," said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, as she took stock of the fortieth session, which took place from 12 to 27 November. Pointing out that after more than twenty years of setbacks and restrictions, the budgetary situation was normalizing, she stressed that by "accepting an increase in their contributions, which is extremely rare in the UN system today, Member States had expressed their confidence and support for the direction given to UNESCO over the past two years and especially for the progress of its strategic transformation. “
Member States have agreed on a budget for 2020-2022 of $534 million (+3%). At Sweden's initiative, the General Conference amended the Organization's Constitution to suspend the right to vote - as well as the right to run for election to the Executive Board - of States that are not up to date with their contributions.
Among the decisions taken by UNESCO's 193 Member States is the adoption of a Convention on Inter-University Mobility, which will enter into force after being ratified by twenty countries. The Convention will foster academic mobility between regions and the establishment of universal principles to improve the recognition of diplomas. It will complement UNESCO's five regional conventions on the recognition of higher education qualifications.
At the same time, some 100 ministers of education and as many university representatives participating in the UNESCO Chairs Programme met to promote the emergence of a more inclusive "global campus", allowing for better student mobility and responding to the rapid increase in the number of students enrolled in higher education.
The other major decision of the General Conference concerns the elaboration of an international standard-setting instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence. Experts selected by UNESCO will be responsible for preparing a project after extensive consultation. Two intergovernmental meetings are expected to be held in 2021 to finalize ethical standards based on fundamental human rights.
In addition, the General Conference also hosted an exceptional meeting of 116 ministers and deputy ministers of culture. They emphasized the essential role of culture in the development of more cohesive, resilient and inclusive societies. At the end of the ministerial meeting, Mexico announced the organization in 2022 of a second "Mondiacult" World Conference on Cultural Policies. In 1982, at the first edition, the international community broadened the definition of culture, which has since then been regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group.
The General Conference also chose to celebrate eight new International Days - Art (15 April), Islamic Art (18 November), African and Afro-Descendant Culture (24 January), Engineering for Sustainable Development (4 March), Logic (14 January), Mathematics (14 March), Olive Tree (26 November) and Portuguese Language (5 May). It has also decided that every first Thursday in November there will be an International Day against Violence and Harassment in Schools, including cyber-bullying. In a further development, 2022 will be proclaimed the International Year of the Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development.
The General Conference was also an opportunity for an exchange between young people and some ten government leaders on the theme:"(Re-)Generation - Rethinking multilateralism with young actors for change". Participants urged governments to intensify their efforts to combat climate change, invest more in education and join concerted efforts to ensure that technology is used to serve people and their rights.
At the opening of the General Conference, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres had warned against the breakup of the international community, claiming that "UNESCO's action was essential to rally the world". In Audrey Azoulay's view, "contemporary challenges (...) cannot be circumscribed to territorial boundaries. They cannot find any other sustainable solution than a collaborative, supportive and multilateral one.