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What UNESCO does in higher education

With a focus on developing countries, notably in Africa, UNESCO supports national efforts to build inclusion and fairer and more sustainable development. Increasing globalization has given higher education a new dimension. Its action contribute to achieving the Education 2030 Agenda and in particular target 4.3 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 for education.

Increasing globalization means higher education is constantly evolving to respond to the rapidly changing demands of local and global labour markets; the increasing use of technology which offers multiple opportunities to access quality education; and the expectation that tertiary education systems and institutions will equip graduates with the knowledge, skills and competencies to contribute to the sustainable development goals.

All this has placed pressure on both traditional public higher education systems and institutions and the private sector as potential and non-traditional learners demand continuous and varied learning opportunities and study programmes and access to higher learning programmes to re-skill, up-skill and adapt to changes in the workplace. In this context, quality assurance and accreditation systems are imperative and need strong normative and policy frameworks.

UNESCO develops and monitors normative instruments; produces knowledge and information; promotes knowledge-sharing across borders; facilitates policy dialogue; promotes and supports renovated research capacities in higher education institutions and contributes to enhanced national capacities. It facilitates the sharing of good practices and proven innovative approaches to widen access and equity to higher education, to reform curricula to match changing labour markets and sustainable development, and to address new digital learning and teaching.

The Organization works with higher education stakeholders in Member States (including policy-makers, higher education institutions, faculties and researchers, students, employers and regional economic bodies) to provide advice on policy issues. UNESCO grounds its work in a human rights approach and uses key specific tools such as regional and global conventions, declarations on relevant issues such as digital education and Open Educational Resources, frameworks for action, reference frameworks, and guidelines with specific recommendations such as the UNESCO-OECD Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education.

As part of this response, UNESCO is developing a Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications to further facilitate academic mobility, improve quality and enhance international cooperation in higher education. At the same time, UNESCO works to create a culture of quality assurance across countries by supporting existing and future agencies devoted to it. Thus, UNESCO is conducting regional meetings towards the organization of an International Conference on Quality Assurance in 2018. 

With regard to digital education, UNESCO analyzes trends, knowledge and data. The Organization contributes to sharing information to support effective online higher education programmes and identifies good practices especially in relation to Open Educational Resources, including MOOCs. 2. Open Educational Resources: policy, costs and transformation; and 3. Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in Higher Education)

Through its UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, UNESCO partners with higher education institutions to advance teaching, learning and research that supports the development of sustainable knowledge societies.