In her address on the opening day of UNESCO's second World Conference on Higher Education in Paris, EI Vice-President Irene Duncan Adanusa stressed the rights of academic staff and the need for the full application of the 1997 Recommendation outlining those rights.
The conference brings together over 1300 participants from education ministries, higher education institutions and education-related NGOs worldwide. Almost 40 representatives from EI member organisations are also attending this four-day event.
The event opened with a number of high profile speakers: UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsura, European Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner, Dr Jill Biden, Prime Minister of Namibia Nahas Angula, Governor General of Saint Lucia Dame Pearlette Louisy, and President of Slovenia Danilo Turk. In his speech, Danilo Turk placed a particular emphasis on academic freedom, which is vital for "the quality and relevance of higher education institutions".
In the subsequent stakeholder panel, EI Vice-President Irene Duncan Adanusa, while reacting to the speech by the Chinese Minister of Education Ji Zhou, strongly advocated the rights of higher education staff and the need to fully implement the terms of the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel.
Despite the key role of academic staff play "at the heart of the public mission of higher education", their rights are being denied through the poor application of this recommendation and the worldwide trend of the casualisation of the profession.
"The crisis we now face must not however be used as a pretext for reducing investments in higher education. It must not be an excuse for delaying the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, including Education for All. It must not be used to implement failed neo-liberal policies," she urged. "Public funding of education is not a cost. It is a sound and proven investment that will stimulate a recovery and build long-term sustainable growth."
Citing how the economic crisis is having most effects on developing economies, Duncan Adanusa highlighted the particular need of strengthening publicly-funded higher education in Africa for the long-term development of the continent through significantly greater assistance commitments from the industrialised countries.
"Use the occassion of the next few days to higher education as a public good and a public service," she told the participants. "It is your responsibility as States to ensure that institutions receive adequate public funding and to work in partnership with the academic community to make sure that institutions meet key criteria on quality, access, and the conditions of staff and students."
As a conclusion to her speech, Duncan Adanusa reassured all partners and stakeholders in the higher education sector that EI is ready to work with them to assure that higher education and research is prepared to meet all present and future challenges:
"But we can only do so if our basic employment and academic rights are respected. Only then we will be able to ensure that higher education and research can fulfill its mandate of building sustainable economic growth, social cohesion, and a culture of peace."
EI will be present throughout the various events and workshops in the coming days of the conference. It has also presented a statement to the World Conference on Higher Education and will be co-organising a stakeholder session together with institutions and students on 8 July.
To read the full text of Duncan Adanusa's speech or download EI's statement, please click on the links below.