Thinking Higher and Beyond: Perspectives on the Futures of Higher Education to 2050



Upon realizing that the International Institute for Higher Education (IESALC) could contribute to the UNESCO flagship initiative on the futures of learning from the perspective of the higher education sector, I thought that it would be useful to start with a theoretical framework. A forecast of this nature could benefit from four alternative approaches. The first is predictive, based on empirical social sciences. The second is interpretive, based not on forecasting the future, but on understanding the competing images of the future. The third is critical, derived from poststructural thought and focusing on the question of who benefits from the realization of certain futures. The fourth approach is participatory learning/research action. This approach is far more democratic and focuses on stakeholders developing their own future, based on their assumptions of the future and what is critical to them. I think this approach is the most suitable for this exercise on the futures of higher education. Many policy researchers and analysts, including some among those at IESALC, would prefer a research on futures that is more short-term, immediately beneficial to the higher education sector, and framed within the language of UNESCO. However, by and large, this exercise is less about predicting the futures of higher education than with attempting to envision novel ways of designing, providing, and improving higher education for all. At the Institute we are concerned not only with forecasting the futures, interpreting the futures, and critiquing the futures of higher education, but also with creating both potential and real futures of higher education – hopefully all positive. I would like to express our gratitude to all the international experts who participated in this exercise, and to the contributions of our own committed team of analysts at IESALC who have all helped to create alternative futures by tackling the problematic involving basic assumptions on higher education and its contribution to the future. By questioning the futures, emerging issues, analyses, and scenarios, our intention is to move away from the present and create new potential for better futures of higher education.

Francesc Pedró - Director UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

Publication year: 


  • 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