Universities must convince governments and development agencies that higher education is not a luxury but an essential part of the education ecosystem needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to three international networks representing more than 2,000 institutions.
Their call came during a webinar co-organised by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), L’Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the International Association of Universities (IAU) on 23 March, which looked at the pivotal year for higher education and the Agenda 2030 SDGs.
Opening the 90-minute debate between university representatives from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe, Joanna Newman, secretary general of the ACU, said most development agencies still believed their focus should be on primary education or up to Year 12, and many people saw higher education as part of an ivory tower.
“But if you want to have good basic education you need universities to help with pedagogical material, you need to have good teacher training and good departments of education,” she said.
She said her organisation has defined six priorities and has been contacted by partners from the Americas “to provide Caribbean practical solutions to the needs of our region”.
The six priorities are:
• Digital transformation.
• Climate change and environmental justice.
• Public health and chronic diseases.
• Tourism and sustainable development.
• Transportation and logistics.
• And because we have post-colonial societies, issues like race and gender.
Turning to the response to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns and campus closures, Aduol said apart from the struggle to move to online teaching, African universities had tried to prove their relevance by making hand sanitisers, face masks and PPE.
“We also came up with structures that would allow markets to keep on functioning while responding to issues of social distance,” he said, adding that universities had gained “some respect” for helping society directly during times of crisis.