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Access, Equity and Quality: Envisioning the Sustainable Future of Postsecondary Education in a Digital Age

To strengthen UNESCO’s function as an international laboratory of ideas capable of rethinking education and a platform for the global debate and reflection on critical emerging trends and challenges, the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education in collaboration with the Higher Education Sector at UNESCO Headquarters implements the project “Access, Equity and Quality: Envisioning the Sustainable Future of Postsecondary Education in a Digital Age” to mobilize think-tanks, to determine the future agenda in information and communication technologies (ICT) in postsecondary education and to contribute to shaping education policies based on research and foresight studies conducted by UNESCO in collaboration with its partner-institutions: EDUCAUSE, International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), New Media Consortium (NMC), Skoltech, universities from Australia, Brazil, China, Korea, South Africa, UAE, etc.

The objective of this project is to use the future to help identify how the technological, social and economic context for postsecondary education is changing and what are some of the key implications for decision makers, from the young person trying to decide on their personal path to the policy makers in governments, universities, companies and civil society. The exploration of these issues is expected to help develop a better understanding of how postsecondary education can contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals now being debated at a global level. Looking towards 2030 the challenge is to connect a range of different ideas about the necessarily imaginary future to making changes to higher education and lifelong learning that may address the needs of students and society. How can and should postsecondary education assess and adapt as learning needs change? What do different images of the future tell us about teaching and learning styles? Can thinking about the future help to develop and promote new pedagogies that address pressing societal and environmental issues? How can postsecondary education both leverage new innovations, particularly in the area of ICT, and foster cultural innovation and cultural entrepreneurship? Does it make sense to continue thinking that it is feasible to guess about the skills needed for jobs that do not yet exist? Are there signs of emergent learning systems that signal systemic discontinuity with past forms of organizing knowledge transmission and creation? The project will focus on postsecondary education, including life-long learning, bearing in mind the need for coupling participatory pedagogy with cost effective technology in e‐learning strategies.

The project will also look at the issue of equity and validation – an increasing number of learners have been obtaining access to knowledge and to learning but this access has not provided equal chances for validation – what does it mean to go beyond current credentialing systems?

Project activities

  • Foresight – thinking , debating an shaping the future development of HE in relation to ICT:
    • Virtual panels of policy makers and experts
    • Mapping and assessment of major relevant trends
      • Efforts to reach decision-makers through the network of project participants
    • Online survey of experts and postsecondary education practitioners
    • Analysis/generalization of the results of the panel/survey and feedback from UNESCO Chairs
  • Innosight: Summarizing good cases and practices in ICT in higher education (based on the information provided by the experts, UNESCO IITE GB members, UNESCO Chairs, etc.) in different countries and different regions of the world.
  • Production of a report (including an expert meeting to discuss the draft report).
  • MOOC on foresight for ICT in postsecondary education

Project outcomes

This study will result in the development of:

  • A trends overview.
  • Analytical desk-study report.
  • A report framework/scheme (top-down recommendations) summarizing the results of the project and including a catalog of innovations identified worldwide. The audience for the report would be policy makers and practitioners.
  • A summary report, including recommendations on next steps.
  • MOOC

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