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Reshaping the future of higher education

31 May 2022

Joan Guàrdia Olmos, Rector, University of Barcelona

May has been a very intense month for higher education institutions and, of course, also for Coimbra Group members. Between 18 and 20 May 2022, Barcelona hosted the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC2022), with additional side-events running throughout the week. With more than 1,500 participants from universities, governments, multilateral agencies, the private sector and civil society, we have had the chance to participate in one of the most significant events to discuss the role of Higher Education in the coming decades.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been great to meet face-to-face again with friends and colleagues from different parts of the world and to discuss how we can reinvent higher education institutions (HEIs) to address the new challenges ahead. Indeed, one of the main outcomes of the conference is the clear consensus regarding the responsibility of HEIs to ensure that people fully exercise their right to higher education within free, peaceful, fair and sustainable societies, while fully committing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the new Social Contract proposed by the Futures of Universities Initiative for the development of universities towards 2050.

This commitment requires universities reflect on their three traditional missions of training, research and social engagement, which must be looked at through a new lens. First, we must transform our education models to make them more open, more flexible and more diverse. The challenge is to educate global citizens who are equipped to address new complexities as well as continuing to pursue our role as lifelong learning institutions. This is probably the most difficult challenge that we will face in the coming years. On the research side, we must continue to promote shared knowledge and open science through transdisciplinary approaches, which are not new to the members of the Coimbra Group and where significant progress has been made at most of our institutions.

Finally, we must not overlook our commitments to social engagement and ethical responsibility. Some of the best practices shared across the Education Innovation Working Group – to which our colleagues from the University of Salamanca and the University of Granada have made significant contributions – and through the Employability Working Group chaired by the University of Barcelona are well aligned with actions that are clearly envisaged in the updated roadmap that will be published by UNESCO in early 2023.

In the meantime, we await with interest the results of the call for proposals to support the roll-out of the European Universities Initiative and the development of the European Strategy for Universities (ES4U), which may have an important impact both on the development of the European Higher Education and Research Areas as a whole and on the strategies and policies of our individual universities.

I look forward to meeting you soon in Padova to continue our discussions during the Coimbra Group Annual Conference and General Assembly!