Treaty bodies are committees of independent experts created under a particular UN treaty. They are mandated to monitor how the states which have ratified the treaty in question comply with their obligations to implement the human rights guaranteed by the treaty, including the right to education. They periodically examine state reports and issue concluding observations on states’ compliance with the treaty, including recommendations.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) have covered issues related to higher education in their concluding observations. This document compiles their concerns and recommendations for the period 2016-2021. It is organised by UN treaty Bodies with states listed in alphabetical order.
The number of forcibly displaced persons is on the rise worldwide, and they are displaced for increasingly protracted periods. Access to education for refugee children and youth remains a major concern, including at the higher education level. While data on refugee access to higher education remain scarce and incomplete, it is estimated that only 3 per cent of refugees were enrolled in higher education in 2021. This figure stands in contrast to a global gross enrolment ratio (GER)1 in higher education of 38 per cent worldwide in 2018. Against this background, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has set the 15by30 target, meaning that by 2030 15 per cent of refugees should gain access to higher education. In order to reach this target, the access to host countries’ higher education systems is of particular importance, as 83 per cent of refugee youth who are enrolled in higher education (for whom data are available) are enrolled in their host countries. The present Policy Paper has analysed the empirical literature on the benefits of access to higher education for refugees. It shows that there are considerable direct benefits for refugee youth themselves, and also clear advantages for the host countries’ economies and social development, to which refugees contribute. Access to higher education enhances their motivation to succeed in pre-university education. It offers identity and social position, and access to skills development and economic opportunities, including through entrepreneurship, and therefore greatly enhances their social and economic integration and life chances.
This Policy Paper presents inclusive policies and good practices from these countries and their HEIs, organized by type of obstacle to access. It concludes by presenting 15 recommendations on how host countries can support refugees’ access to their national systems, arguing strongly for an ‘equality of opportunity approach’ in terms of national policies, and also for caring measures at the level of HEIs. The 15 recommendations are made mainly for national policy-makers and planners, but also for HEIs, who share a combined responsibility and whose actions can mutually reinforce each other.
Higher education is too often dissociated from the right to education. In many countries tuition fees are on the rise, and only the privileged have access to, or succeed in completing, higher education, making it difficult to argue that there is an actual right to higher education to be enforced. However, international human rights law is clear: the right to education includes the obligation of states to ensure that higher education is made accessible to all based on capacity.
In addition, states have an obligation to progressively introduce free higher education, an obligation which is yet to be implemented globally. Confronted with drastic changes worldwide in terms of rising inequalities, human movement, growing digitalization and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is high time to clarify existing obligations as well as what aspects of the right to higher education might require further explanation considering new contexts and challenges.
This publication aims to help guide policy-makers, civil society and the international education community, to fully enforce the right to higher education and ensure that the human-rights based approach is placed at the heart of the higher education debate.
In 1995, the parents of an Indian pupil brought a case against University of Natal because her application to medical school was rejected despite the satisfactory results she obtained in her qualifying examinations. They claimed that the admission process was discriminatory because it did not consider all the applications equally, but set higher admission standards for Indian students and lower ones for African students. The parents argued that this is as a violation of ‘equal access to educational institution’ provision of the constitution as well as sections 8(1) and 8 (2) in regard to ‘setting a discriminatory practice’. The Court agreed that while Indian community had been decidedly disadvantaged by the apartheid system, African pupils were even more so. Accordingly, the Court held that a selection system which compensated for this discrepancy does not violate the provisions of sections 8(1) and 8(2) of the Constitution.