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The dynamics of human capital and the world of work

Towards a common market in contemporary tertiary education

Author - Aidan Kenny


 


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7 United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation

The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is the specialist section of the United Nations responsible for promoting education and training initiatives within the member states of the UN. Its remit ranges across the whole spectrum of education from compulsory, post compulsory, TVET, higher education and research. UNESCO’s work is principally informed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals. An area of considerable concern for UNESCO is access to education for all, with particular relevance to this paper in respect of equitable access to higher education. UNESCO has serious concerns relating to the unequal and inequitable opportunities in access to higher education that exist in some developing countries. The UNESCO Position Paper on higher education states the following.

It is clear that new opportunities and new challenges face higher education in its role as actor and reactor to a more globalized society. In response to these developments and trends, international and supranational frameworks are being reviewed or developed by different intergovernmental bodies. It has been acknowledged however, that UNESCO, as the specialised agency of the United Nations with the competence for education, has a critically important role to play. UNESCO has the responsibility to help develop appropriate frameworks for higher education based on the principles of the United Nations and, in partnership with Member States, serve to build capacity and facilitate the implementation of these policy and regulatory frameworks at the national and international level.

(2005: 28)

Central to UNESCO’s strategy for higher education is ‘capacity building’ in terms of appropriate policies and regulatory frameworks that can support the advancement of higher education in developing countries. UNESCO (2003: 8) claims that the process of globalisation is having a major impact on the higher education sector. Key elements within this global context that have relevance to emerging higher education policy initiatives of UN member states are

  • the growing importance of a knowledge society/economy
  • deregulation of trade barriers in education services
  • the immense growth in ICT
  • a growing emphasis on the role of the market in education.

UNESCO’s report on Trends and Developments in Higher Education in Europe (2003) highlights several main areas of change:

  • ‘democratisation of access’ (including the expansion of enrolments in higher education, diversity of students profile and lifelong learning)
  • quality of higher education (mechanisms to assure quality, accreditations, standards and qualifications)
  • internal functioning and the external environment (the funding, accountability and management of institutes, relevance of programmes to the world of work).

The organisation notes that the key emerging issues are employability, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, and transnational education (TNE). The relevance of higher education to the world of work is strongly questioned, particularly in the context of globalisation and the drive for the knowledge society/economy. UNESCO concludes:

What is urgently needed is further reflection on the substantive aspects of academic globalization, on such issues as a global framework for academic qualifications and their recognition, for students, for staff members, and for study programme mobility, as well as for the rules of market operations or for the provision of higher education as a public good.

(2003: 27)

Within tertiary education UNESCO has a specialised subsection which deals exclusively with Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) called UNESCO-UNEVOC.

UNESCO-UNEVOC promotes access, quality, systems, information sharing and networking within the domain of TVET, ranging from VET to higher education activities. The Director of UNESCO-UNEVOC Maclean claimed that over 80 per cent of jobs worldwide required some form of TVET qualification, further suggesting that TVET providers offer a variety of skills levels catering for the needs of the different labour markets in the developed work. He notes that the key challenges for the TVET area in developing countries are access to quality TVET, promoting decent work, TVET in the formal, non-formal and informal sectors, vocationalisation of secondary schools, VET in higher education, global networking, teacher and training, value of education in work, sustainable development, and realising the potential of ICT. UNESCO-UNEVOC carries out work at a European level. Bunning (2006) notes that leading on from the Bologna Declaration call for European-wide degrees a multi-national Master Degree programme in VET has been developed by Otto-von-Guericke University (Germany) and Anglia Polytechnic University (UK). Bunning continues that the Lisbon Strategy is facing some critical issues in relation to TVET:

  1. missing mobility: barriers are still in place inhibiting mobility
  2. shortage of qualified teaching and training staff: by 2015 over 1 million teachers will have to be recruited
  3. reluctant participation in LLL: there is no clear funding strategy for LLL and no visible promotion strategy for LLL exists.

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