University networks in the region unanimously endorsed the CRES 2018

Evilázio Texeira, Rui Oppermann and Pedro Henriquez Guajardo during the closure of the event. Photos: Rochele Zandavalli

The VIII Meeting of University Networks and Councils of Rectors of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Porto Alegre on August 28 and 29, 2017, exceeded their expectations of participation by including, in its initial call, students and workers in higher education of the region, who contributed with ideas and proposals along with those of the traditional actors in order to face the current challenges of higher education.

On Tuesday, August 29, the program began with three panels focused on innovation, science and technology. Also, internationalization, regional integration and diversity were discussed. Some questions served to trigger the reflection and the debate among panelists and assistants around the current state of regional higher education: How inclusive are our institutions? Why the university? How to guarantee access and permanence? Should higher education address these challenges? Are our institutions ideal for promoting change? How to promote intercultural respect in the region?

The call for this regional meeting, the most important prior to the 3rd Regional Conference on Higher Education CRES 2018, brought together 93 registered people, 40 networks disaggregated into 21 higher education networks (intercontinental, regional, interregional, subregional and thematic), 19 boards of rectors and national associations of universities and/or higher education institutions, all of them representative of 996 university and tertiary higher education institutions in the region.

Committed to a more equitable and inclusive society in the region, the present actors, representing 15 member states, reaffirmed the strategic role of the higher education in the 21st century society: "Higher education is a strategic social public good, fundamental to the exercise of the human right to knowledge. It is a duty of the State to ensure this right and guarantee its exercise (...) because it deepens democracy and makes it possible to overcome inequities", according to the document gathered at the close of the Meeting.

The exchanges of points of views raised in Porto Alegre, from a regional perspective and from different conceptions, will contribute to the approach of the thematic structure, which sets the content agenda to be debated in the CRES 2018, in a process of collective participation by the networks of tertiary and university education. These will be able to submit their contributions to the organization of the Regional Conference, with the idea of working together in the construction of a quality education towards the fulfillment of the objectives of sustainable development and Education 2030. The deadline to submit documents is November 25, 2017.

Within the framework of this regional cooperation, UNESCO-IESALC signed an agreement with the Colombian Association of Universities (ASCUN), which is responsible of collecting the experience of the new Regional Center for Cooperation in Higher Education to work on the basis of university and tertiary institutions cooperation projects that strengthen the processes of institutional integration in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Center will have its headquarters in Bogota, Colombia, at the ASCUN facilities, and it will work under the coordination of Professor Daniel Michaels.

Opening session of the VIII Meeting of University Networks. Photos: Rochele Zandavalli

A declaration of regional social commitment

Pedro Henriquez Guajardo, Director of UNESCO-IESALC, proceeded to read the Declaration of the VIII Network Meeting, addressing the challenges facing the higher education in the current regional context, marked by asymmetry and diversity.
There were two days of dialogue and debate marked by the conviction of the participants about the social value of higher education and its transforming potential to reach sustainable, inclusive and diverse knowledge societies that contribute to democratic coexistence, tolerance, solidarity and cooperation for a socially responsible citizenship.

The Porto Alegre Declaration is conceptually composed of 3 principles and 20 thematic guidelines that are part of the body of recommendations the networks make to CRES 2018. With them, the networks assume the search for an inclusive system that promotes scientific research, social awareness ant student and academic mobility, taking into account the assurance of quality, diversity and appropriating innovation as a challenge to university achievement. "Our institutions must develop systemic updates that lead us to projects in line with contemporary social dynamics", among them, for example, programs for environmental sustainability and attention to diversity, among others.

The Latin America and the Caribbean networks, associations and governing council unanimously supported the work plan and development of CRES 2018 as a unique opportunity to decide on the higher education we need in moving towards effective regional development. They also agreed to welcome the broad participation of the private sector, with the purpose of working together in the articulation of a regional and international dimension. In this sense, the need to strengthen solidarity programs that promote the development of intercultural understanding between countries was raised.

The VIII Network Meeting culminated in the unanimous endorsement to IESALC "as a specialized institute of UNESCO, unique, necessary, active and determined in its agenda and in its actions for the strengthening and development of CRES as an opportunity to decide on the higher education we need to move towards higher stages of development."