The Right to Education Initiative (RTE) and UNESCO have jointly collaborated on a new publication entitled ‘Right to higher education: unpacking the international normative framework in light of current trends and challenges’, which seeks to place human rights at the heart of debates on higher education.
Concretely, the report addresses a series of core questions, among them: What are the state legal obligations related to higher education? How do they apply in the context of increased human movement, rising inequalities and growing digitalization? What are national measures taken to advance this right, and what are the challenges faced?
The context for this publication is the twin phenomena of the substantial increase in higher education enrolments over the past 20 years - reaching a 100% increase - alongside the significant limitations on access through cost, discriminatory policies, and admission processes which compound and reinforce inequality. The report seeks to address increasing divides using the international normative framework and considering
It is divided into three main sections. The first considers the normative framework, including general and specific international instruments, regional instruments, and the context of the 2030 SDG4 targets. It also addresses compliance with international and national law, summarising case law at national level and exploring the recommendations and concerns of the UN Treaty Bodies.
The second section contemplates how the right to education can be applied in light of the current trends and challenges, and the evolving educational context. This section comprises five major themes; access, inclusion, quality, human movement and international recognition of qualifications, and system level governance financing of higher education.
The final section provides concluding observations and guidance for action. Among the key recommendations are the adoption of a system-wide, equity-based, lifelong learning approach, and the need for interconnectedness between higher education and other levels and forms of education. Equally, the report stresses the need for sufficient and sustained funding, with priority given to vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged groups. States must also enhance the quality of higher education provision, including by implementing safeguards for online learning and closing the digital divide. Higher education policies must go beyond access and factor in the completion of studies and the transition to the labour market.