Report on the Futures of Higher Education envisions collective and holistic responses to global challenges


Values such as respect, empathy, equality, and solidarity should be at the core of future higher education institutions and their missions.

Higher education can be shaped as a public good and as a driver of social and economic development of countries and regions.

To democratize digitalization, higher education actors should advocate for the right to connectivity, to a device, and to networking, e.g. through learning hubs.

Higher education institutions should be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis and other global challenges, through knowledge production and technology incubation and transfer, and integrating climate change education into learning.

On May 25, 2021, the report “Thinking Higher and Beyond: Perspectives on the Futures of Higher Education to 2050“ was launched at a virtual meeting attracting over 500 attendees. The report is the result of a collective and creative process of discussions around the role of higher education globally. Two questions guide this work: how would you like higher education to be in 2050? And how could higher education contribute to better futures for all in 2050?

The aim of this report compiled by the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC) has been to gather the wide-ranging points of views of 25 global higher education experts who were invited to participate in this phase of the Futures of Higher Education project. Through written concept notes and participation in online workshops, experts’ knowledge and ideas were mobilized to create the report, which sets out the possibilities for different, better futures for higher education. “We are concerned not only with forecasting the futures, interpreting the futures, and critiquing the futures of higher education, but also with creating, not just the possibility but the reality of alternative futures for higher education,” explains Francesc Pedró, Director of IESALC, in the foreword.

Framed within the UNESCO Futures of Education initiative, the report highlights four key messages for higher education towards 2050: 1. To take active responsibility in the development of the potential of all humans; 2. To promote wellbeing and sustainability, oriented towards justice, solidarity, and human rights; 3. To draw strength from interculturality and diversity, respecting cultures and identities, and creating spaces for dialogue; 4. Finally, to create and uphold interconnectedness, forging collaborations between local and global communities, and bonding higher education with other levels of education, including non-formal and informal learning.

Shaping the purposes of higher education

As part of the curatorial work done by the UNESCO IESALC analyst team, quotations or ideas attributed to a certain expert are included in the report and are shown below with their name in brackets.

According to one of the report’s statements, higher education needs to shape within a public good model, which “has been decisively demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic to be able to better sustain stable institutions” (Simon Marginson). Higher education institutions can harness their “collective disruptive thinking” (Sir Hilary Beckles) to support a shift in global and regional development paradigms, thus incorporating higher education as a driver of social and economic development in countries and regions.

Within the public good model, one example of how governments could provide free higher education for all could be through a “Global Learning Fund” (Nagla Rizk) that would oblige economically richer countries and global businesses to contribute a portion of their profits to subsidize higher education across regions. Conceptualizing higher education as an interconnected ecosystem would enhance collaboration and make it more connected, externally and internally, with the other ecosystems with which it is entangled (Ronald Barnett), such as knowledges, other social institutions, and the economy.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the enhanced need for global cooperation in research, innovation, and enhancing scientific capacities. Responses to global challenges such as this will be at the heart of future international cooperation, underpinned by values of integrity and equitable access that should also be reflected in how higher education institutions are led and governed.

Read more here.


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

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government