At the turn of the century, when the globe was enthralled by the potential of globalisation, democratisation, and multilateralism, higher education found itself at a crossroads inconceivable today. The various crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, growing disparities, obvious developmental deficiencies, frightening democratic recessions, intolerable populisms, increasing competitive imperialisms, and ongoing armed conflicts are now wreaking havoc on society.
The expansion of higher education comes with enduring disparities, shifting funding strategies, technological disruptions, uneven internationalisation, increasing complexity of accountability frameworks, and escalating struggles over the epistemic scaffolding that has long sanctioned exclusion of significant portions of global knowledges, created imagined human hierarchies, histories of oppression, exploitation, and marginalisation, and reproduced social inequalities.
A new social contract is required for higher education as part of a new compact of human solidarity and ecological sustainability. Under such a contract higher education becomes a global public good to advance ecological, intercultural, interdisciplinary, international and information literacies, as well as collaborations and partnerships within and among institutions and countries across the global divides of North and South. It must embrace the human rights principles of equity, diversity, inclusion, social justice, solidarity, and respect for life, human dignity, interconnectedness and collective responsibility.
Inquiry, critical thinking, innovation, academic freedom, shared governance, inclusiveness, equity, and pluralism, as well as the values of sustainability and social responsibility and excellence via collaboration rather than competition, must also be upheld. These are the topics I’d want to go through in more detail below. My comments are based on a number of my own works on the politics of knowledge production, including the ongoing marginalisation of African knowledges, as well as some significant studies conducted in advance of the third UNESCO World Higher Education Conference, which will take place from May 18–20, 2022, in Barcelona, Spain, and provide a condensed overview of current global perspectives on the future of higher education.