Higher Education is Key to Building Back Better

To drive the post Covid-19 recovery and sustainable development new global commitments by governments and the international community to protect and transform higher education are welcome. Engaging with and supporting the higher education sector will be essential to the success.

UNESCO demonstrated their global leadership in education. Their meeting was attended by heads of state, numerous ministers and representatives from across the UN system and civil society. All calling for a renewed commitment to meeting Sustainable Development Goal Four (SDG 4), highlighting the need to invest in inclusive and equitable lifelong learning and to reinforce global cooperation in education.


The global higher education community welcomes recognition of the importance of skills development and lifelong learning alongside the undeniable urgency to get students back to university and learning.

role of higher education

Reflecting on the declaration, it is clear that higher education has a significant role to play in realising these ambitious aims. Higher education is a critical component of the education ecosystem. Their role in strengthening and informing education policy and practice at every level – training teachers, creating pedagogical content and leading educational research – is central to reimagining education to address the challenges of COVID-19.

Higher education can and will work in partnership with business and the technical and vocational education and training sector to upskill and reskill young and adult learners for an inclusive recovery. Tackling the challenges we face will require higher education to unlock the full potential of our young people and to nurture future leaders with the skills, values and competencies to drive sustainable development.

impact of C-19

At the same time higher education has been hit hard by the pandemic. Around April 2020, higher education and universities were closed in 175 countries and communities and over 220 million students had their studies ended or significantly disrupted. Higher education predicts an ongoing impact on student intake and on research. This will have a major financial impact on the global higher education sector in both the short and long term.

In addition to the economic shock that will likely lead to a sharp reduction in funding from households, public funding might also be affected. This will impact the sector and will need to be monitored closely, if you ask me.


Without protection, this could result in the permanent closure of courses and instititions across the world. This can have a tremendous negative effect on student access to quality higher education.

This will have a disproportionate impact on the most underrepresented students, who have worked hardest to get there. As a sector we must redouble our efforts to improve equity and inclusion as we adapt to new models of online and hybride provision.

inclusive recovery

Higher education also have a wider role to play in forging an inclusive recovery from COVID-19. We, as higher education, provide significant economic, social and cultural value to our local, regional and national communities. Our contraction and closure will lead to a loss of these social goods, as well as research, human capital and educational opportunities.

It is therefore more important than ever that higher education is supported and protected as an integral part of the education sector and an important social and economic actor.

In turn, we – the higher education sector – must show that we are ready to play a full and active role in supporting the wider education sector and our societies in the collective efforts towards an inclusive recovery, building on our critical contribution to the pandemic response.

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