Georges Haddad

Georges Haddad

Georges Haddad graduated from the École Normale Supérieure. He holds an MA in mathematical sciences from the University of Paris VII and a DEA (postgraduate diploma) in mathematics from the University of Paris VI. He also passed the Agrégation (national competitive examination) in mathematics and holds a doctorate in mathematical sciences.

He started his career as an assistant lecturer at the University of Tours (1975-1976) and then taught at the University of Paris-Dauphine from 1976 to 1983. From 1983 to 1984, he was a lecturer at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. In 1984, he was appointed professor by the University of Nice and was later employed as a professor at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. He was president of the latter from 1989 to 1994, and also first vice-president of the French Conference of University Presidents from 1992 to 1994. He is currently honorary president of the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. He participated in the World Conference on Higher Education as chairman of the Steering Committee, from 1994 to 1999, and was also a member of the Task Force on Higher Education in Developing Countries (World Bank-UNESCO) from 1997 to 2000.

He is a member of several scientific councils and was a member of the jury for the Eugénie de Rosement Prize for the Sciences, a prize awarded by the University Chancellery of Paris. He is the author of many publications in the field of applied mathematics. He founded the Marin Mersenne Laboratory for mathematics, computer science and interdisciplinary applications. He has also written a number of articles on education, higher education and research.

He was appointed director of UNESCO’s Division of Higher Education in April 2004.

The Director of UNESCO´s Higher Education Division, Georges Haddad, was at the Opening Session table of the 3rd International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education `Accreditation for Quality Assurance: What is at Stake?´ held in November 2006.

Georges Haddad, talked about UNESCO’s view on the future of higher education, stating that UNESCO should be the catalyst for dialogue between all parties.

The WHEC 98+10 (World Higher Education Conference 98+10) is coming up very soon. From UNESCO's perspective, what are the (3-5) main higher education challenges for the next decade?

Relevance, quality and international cooperation are the three major challenges that will be defined during the WHEC 98+10, and they are also the ones for today, tomorrow and beyond.

In terms of relevance, higher education must address social needs, which I would define as a social contract between higher education institutions and social and individual needs, because citizens make society. So, in that sense, the relevance of universities lies in building citizenship, and this must be done at a regional, national and international level.

Quality is a very complex and difficult issue. To paraphrase Saint Augustine when he talked about time, if I am not asked to address this issue, I feel that I understand it. As soon as I am asked to address it, and I have to explain it, I realise how difficult it is to do so. That is my perception of the quality issue. Even its complexity, we know, has to do with cultural diversity, history, tradition, and also with economic, cultural and social development. At the same time, it is clear that there is no quality issue without confrontation, dialogue and exchange. Those three aspects lead to recognition, accreditation, mobility and exchange of knowledge and practice. It is the major issue not just for higher education, but also for education as a whole.

Finally, international cooperation is the third issue facing higher education, from the perspective of UNESCO, in order to meet the challenges of globalization. Achieving international cooperation also requires dialogue between institutions and the creation of networks through the use of information and communication technologies. Also important is the ability to address and understand the different challenges facing the developed and the developing world. That is to say that international cooperation also requires solidarity, not only to help developing countries gain access to information and knowledge, but also to help them produce knowledge. International cooperation should not simply be in a North-to-South direction, as if building a new colonialist approach to knowledge. The South must be helped to define its own capacity for knowledge production.

Within this context, what should the fundamental role played by UNESCO be?

The role of UNESCO is to provide a universal platform for dialogue, cooperation and exchange, and to address these issues without any prejudice or preconception. UNESCO must also defend the role of higher education not only in the sense of a training institution, but also as an institution related to research, innovation and the ability to anticipate. The role of UNESCO with regard to relevance, quality and international cooperation challenges is to be again and again a place of anticipation. UNESCO has to convince all partners—from different states, institutions and social sectors (public and private)—to address these issues, to have the for dialogue and to understand why education and higher education are basic to the future and to finding the honour of the human spirit. In fact, UNESCO is a place where the honour of the human spirit takes on its full and complete dimension.

¿Who do you think the main international stakeholders in higher education will be in the next 10 years?

That is a difficult question to answer. I think that there are many stakeholders. But what it is clear is that UNESCO is not a stakeholder. It is a place for dialogue, a facilitator, and a catalyst for dialogue. The stakeholders are all societies, all member states, countries and institutions. Policymakers are also stakeholders, as are researchers, creators and entrepreneurs. I could mention international organizations such as the World Bank, the OECD, the European Union or the IDB. But I think that we should not concentrate on just two or three stakeholders, but give the opportunity to the ones I just mentioned to participate in the service for social, cultural and economical development.

I think that we have to address all those stakeholders and bring them to the same table to discuss, and to gain a clear view of the real challenges. Any country can be excluded from higher education, from 'education for all challenges’ —I'm thinking of Dakar goals or Millennium Goals, for example. And meeting all those goals, in each country, requires higher education of the best quality and greatest relevance.

How does UNESCO promote the reforms needed for higher education to adapt to global and local needs, and to strengthen its mission and results?

Again, the role of UNESCO is to address this issue and to help each country to first of all increase national capacity in terms of quality assurance and secondly not to depend on what others decide.

As you know, education and particularly higher education is increasingly becoming a kind of market; so we have to define what we understand by market. Is it only for profit, or is it to develop richness and wealth in human minds and at a national level? I think that one of the main issues is to address at a national and institutional level the ability to develop quality assurance and accreditation and to do it in a fair and comprehensive way. I would even say in a scientific way and with the opportunity for ongoing debate. Because quality is a dynamic process, it must adapt to changes, evolution, reforms, etc. and this is where UNESCO plays its role. I think that we have to protect the weaker countries, developing countries, to prevent them from becoming a site for this market-oriented higher-education system, and defend their ability to have their own institution in terms of excellence.

I would like to mention that GUNI is one of the best examples—if not the best—of what UNESCO could promote in relation to dialogue, with the help of a very relevant and excellent institution like the Technical University of Catalonia, and also the United Nations University and UNESCO itself. GUNI is, for us, a major partner at UNESCO level in opening the blinds and seeing society as it is, without an autarkic vision and mission. As Luis Buñuel's film 'The Exterminating Angel' explores, UNESCO, and all international organizations, should be open-minded, with the ability to look at society as it is, and to address social challenges as they are, not as we would like them to be. We should be open to life, society, the outside world, and we should create the conditions for a real objective and comprehensive dialogue.

This article is based on a conversation held with the GUNI Secretariat at the 3rd International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, November 27-29 2006. It is not a literal transcription of the interview. The full interview is shown in the video that accompanies the article.



  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

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