3rd UNESCO World Higher Education Conference

July 11, 2022
  • International
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
Photograph of Barcelona Font Màgica fountain.

By David Mihalyi, Assistant Director, International, AACRAO

Barcelona hosted UNESCO’s third World Higher Education Conference from May 18-20, 2022 in Montjuic in the city’s center, and I was fortunate to be able to represent AACRAO for the three-day event. The conference’s theme, Reinventing the Role & Place of Higher Learning for a Sustainable Future, derives from Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of the Education 2030 Framework for Action. “SDG 4 is to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ and has seven targets and three means of implementation.

SDG 4 Targets

  • Free primary and secondary education; Equal access to quality pre-primary education;

  • Equal access to affordable technical, vocational, and higher education;

  • Increase the number of people with relevant skills for financial success;

  • Eliminate all discrimination in education;

  • Universal literacy and numeracy;

  • Education for sustainable development and global citizenship.

These targets provided the framework for conference session topics.

AACRAO Leadership in Higher Education

The inclusion of AACRAO among the invitees to this conference is significant; officials from education ministries in all UN member countries were invited to attend, and AACRAO’s inclusion reflects the fact that, although, the United States has neither a ministry of education nor other government body that functions as one, the organizers recognize AACRAO as the entity in the US engaged directly in issues related to those around which the conference was organized.

In addition to the traditional conference sessions, which were similar in format and length to the longer sessions to which AACRAO Annual Meeting attendees are accustomed, the conference also featured micro-sessions, poster sessions, and workshops. Students from universities around the world attended and presented on issues ranging from distance learning, effects of Covid-19, climate change, social justice, and sustainability issues affecting study abroad, among others.

For someone involved in international education, such as I, the opportunities for networking and collecting contacts were unmatched, and I am excited to exchange information with some of the people I met who - serendipitously - happen to be uniquely placed to answer questions on issues we at AACRAO International and those involved with AACRAO EDGE have been working on. The information we receive will find its way into EDGE content and webinars and conference presentations over the remainder of the year and beyond.

All main sessions were translated into French, English, and Spanish - the three working languages of the conference – by translators working in booths at the back of each room, depending on the language being spoken. Headsets were provided for anyone who needed one, but translators can only do so much, and I witnessed an amazing real-time translation from Chinese into English in one session, and an ad-hoc translation from Spanish to English by an audience member during the question and answer period in another.

The negative-within-24-hours Covid-19 test requirement had not yet been lifted when it was time for me to return to the US, so I was somewhat apprehensive about the mask-optional nature of the conference, which many took advantage of despite the inclusion of three KN95 UNESCO-branded masks provided in our conference welcome bags. Fortunately, my video test (taken on video over WhatsApp and requiring more fine motor skills than the tests I had taken at home!) was negative, and I was safely home after only 25 hours of continuous travel and layovers. But that is a story for a different article.

I am deeply thankful to my colleagues at AACRAO who did the heavy lifting while I was gone and to AACRAO for the opportunity to represent it and the membership at what I was reminded through involvement with the WHEC 2022 is the important work in which we are involved, that of strengthening the right and access to education and building institutions that contribute to our shared goal of equality and opportunity in education for all.