UNESCO is the United Nations agency for education, science, and culture. The Organisation has adopted two conventions in the field of education, one on non-discrimination in education and the other on technical and vocational education. It has also adopted a number of recommendations, including on: the status of teachers, higher education, adult education, and human rights education. These recommendations are non-binding but states nonetheless are politically and morally obliged to implement them.

The UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations monitors the implementation of these conventions and recommendations, and examines complaints (communications) in the field of education.

UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (CADE, 1960) was the first international instrument in the field of education having binding force in international law and has inspired other instruments, particularly Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1960). It has been recognised by UNESCO’s Executive Board as a key pillar for the Education 2030 process.

This Convention expresses the fundamental principle of non-discrimination and equality of opportunity in education. It is worthwhile noting that Article 2 explicitly states that the establishment or maintenance of private education institutions should not exclude any group but instead provide educational facilities in addition to those provided by public authorities.

Article 4 enjoins upon States Parties to make: primary education free and compulsory; secondary education in its different forms generally available and accessible to all and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity. It also recognises the right to basic education for youth and adults.

Article 5 lays down the aims of education and provides for the liberty of parents to choose the kind of education they want to their children to receive, particularly regarding moral and religious instruction. It also recognises minorities’ right to carry on their own education activities.

This Convention also refers to teacher training and qualification as well as to quality education.

UNESCO Convention on Technical and Vocational Education (1989) has a very low rate of ratifications (18). UNESCO is considering its relevance and might revise it or adopt a new instrument in the future.

  • Adoption: 10 November 1989
  • Entry into force: 29 August 1991
  • Ratifications: 18
  • InterpretationUNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations monitors and examines complaints on violations of the right to education but has never published an official interpretation of the Convention.
  • Monitoring mechanism: yes (Article 7 of the Convention)
  • Complaint mechanism: yes

The UNESCO Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education establishes universal principles for fair, transparent and non-discriminatory recognition of higher education qualifications and qualifications giving access to higher education and offering avenues for further study and employment. With provisions on non-traditional learning modes, the Global Convention also facilitates the recognition of qualifications, prior learning and study periods earned remotely. In addition, it promotes the recognition of refugees’ qualifications, even in cases where documentary evidence is lacking. 

  • Adoption: 25 November 2019 
  • Entry into force: 5 March 2023, in accordance with its Article XVIII.
  • Ratifications: 19