Summary of the World Declaration on Higher Education
1. Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit, in keeping
with Article 26.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a consequence, no
discrimination can be accepted in granting access to higher education on grounds of race,
gender, language, religion or economic, cultural or social distinctions, or physical
2. The core missions of higher education systems (to educate, to train, to undertake
research and, in particular, to contribute to the sustainable development and
improvement of society as a whole) should be preserved, reinforced and further
expanded, namely to educate highly qualified graduates and responsible citizens and to
provide opportunities (espaces ouverts) for higher learning and for learning throughout
life. Moreover, higher education has acquired an unprecedented role in present-day
society, as a vital component of cultural, social, economic and political development and
as a pillar of endogenous capacity-building, the consolidation of human rights,
sustainable development, democracy and peace, in a context of justice. It is the duty of
higher education to ensure that the values and ideals of a culture of peace prevail.
3. Higher education institutions and their personnel and students should preserve and
develop their crucial functions, through the exercise of ethics and scientific and
intellectual rigour in their various activities. They should also enhance their critical and
forward-looking function, through the ongoing analysis of emerging social, economic,
cultural and political trends, providing a focus for forecasting, warning and prevention.
For this, they should enjoy full academic autonomy and freedom, while being fully
responsible and accountable to society.
4. Relevance in higher education should be assessed in terms of the fit between what
society expects of institutions and what they do. For this, institutions and systems, in
particular in their reinforced relations with the world of work, should base their long-term
orientations on societal aims and needs, including the respect of cultures and
environment protection. Developing entrepreneurial skills and initiatives should become
major concerns of higher education. Special attention should be paid to higher
education's role of service to society, especially activities aimed at eliminating poverty,
intolerance, violence, illiteracy, hunger, environmental degradation and disease, and to
activities aiming at the development of peace, through an interdisciplinary and
5. Higher education is part of a seamless system, starting with early childhood and
primary education and continuing through life. The contribution of higher education to
the development of the whole education system and the reordering of its links with all
levels of education, in particular with secondary education, should be a priority.
Secondary education should both prepare for and facilitate access to higher education as
well as offer broad training and prepare students for active life.
6. Diversifying higher education models and recruitment methods and criteria is essential
both to meet demand and to give students the rigorous background and training required
by the twenty-first century. Learners must have an optimal range of choice and the
acquisition of knowledge and know-how should be viewed in a lifelong perspective, based
on flexible entry and exit points within the system.
7. Quality in higher education is a multidimensional concept, which should embrace all its functions and activities: teaching and academic programmes, research and scholarship,
staffing, students, infrastructure and the academic environment. Particular attention
should be paid to the advancement of knowledge through research. Higher education
institutions in all regions should be committed to transparent internal and external
evaluation, conducted openly by independent specialists. However, due attention should
be paid to specific institutional, national and regional contexts in order to take into
account diversity and to avoid uniformity. There is a perceived need for a new vision and
paradigm of higher education, which should be student-oriented. To achieve this goal,
curricula need to be recast so as to go beyond simple cognitive mastery of disciplines and
include the acquisition of skills, competencies and abilities for communication, creative
and critical analysis, independent thinking and team work in multicultural contexts.
8. A vigorous policy of staff development is an essential element for higher education
institutions. Clear policies should be established concerning higher education teachers, so
as to update and improve their skills, with stimulus for constant innovation in curriculum,
teaching and learning methods, and with an appropriate professional and financial status,
and for excellence in research and teaching, reflecting the corresponding provisions of
the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel
approved by the General Conference of UNESCO in November 1997.
9. National and institutional decision-makers should place students and their needs at the
centre of their concerns and should consider them as major partners and responsible
stakeholders in the renewal of higher education. Guidance and counselling services
should be developed, in co-operation with student organizations, to take account of the
needs of ever more diversified categories of learners. Students who do drop out should
have suitable opportunities to return to higher education if and when appropriate.
Institutions should educate students to become well-informed and deeply motivated
citizens, who can think critically, analyse problems of society, look for solutions to the
problems of society, apply them and accept social responsibilities.
10. Measures must be taken or reinforced to ensure the participation of women in higher
education, in particular at the decision-making level and in all disciplines in which they
are under-represented. Further efforts are required to eliminate all gender stereotyping
in higher education. To overcome obstacles and to enhance the access of women to
higher education remains an urgent priority in the renewal process of systems and
11. The potential of new information and communication technologies for the renewal of
higher education by extending and diversifying delivery, and by making knowledge and
information available to a wider public should be fully utilized. Equitable access to these
should be assured through international co-operation and support to countries that lack
capacities to acquire such tools. Adapting these technologies to national, regional and
local needs and securing technical, educational, management and institutional systems to
sustain them should be a priority.
12. Higher education should be considered as a public service. While diversified sources
of funding, private and public, are necessary, public support for higher education and
research remains essential to ensure a balanced achievement of its educational and
social missions. Management and financing in higher education should be instruments to
improve quality and relevance. This requires the development of appropriate planning
and policy-analysis capacities and strategies, based on partnerships between higher
education institutions and responsible state authorities. Autonomy to manage internal
affairs is necessary, but with clear and transparent accountability to society.
13. The international dimension of higher education is an inherent part of its quality.
Networking, which has emerged as a major means of action, should be based on sharing,
solidarity and equality among partners. The "brain drain" has yet to be stemmed, since itcontinues to deprive the developing countries and those in transition, of the high-level
expertise necessary to accelerate their socio-economic progress. Priority should be given
to training programmes in the developing countries, in centres of excellence forming
regional and international networks, with short periods of specialized and intensive study
14. Regional and international normative instruments for the recognition of studies and
diplomas should be ratified and implemented, including certification of skills,
competencies and abilities of graduates, making it easier for students to change courses,
in order to facilitate mobility within and between national systems.
15. Close partnership amongst all stakeholders - national and institutional policy-makers,
governments and parliaments, the media, teaching and related staff, researchers,
students and their families, the world of work, community groups - is required in order to
set in train a movement for the in-depth reform and renewal of higher education.