FHERC: Challenges still to be faced in tertiary education and research
Academic freedom, international solidarity, gender, casualisation and privatisation came under the spotlight at Education International’s 10th International Further and Higher Education and Research Conference, attended by leaders of tertiary education and research.
Easy access to high quality education and protection of the weak and vulnerable must be guaranteed. That’s according to Christian Addai-Poku, President of Ghana’s National Association of Graduate Teachers, who addressed the opening ceremony of the Education International (EI) 10th International Further and Higher Education and Research Conference (IFHERC). The conference was held in Ghana, Accra, from 14-16 November.
In addition, quality assurance and the empowerment of women is especially important in terms of higher education academic freedom, he said. Furthermore, the increasing privatisation across the world must be stopped, he said.
Referring to the recent elections in the USA, EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards highlighted how quickly politics in a country can change. It is crucial “that we stand united and find real ideas and responses”, he said, reiterating EI’s important role in mobilising for these responses.
In relation to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he said that EI managed to fight the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) initiative. Edwards also welcomed the fact that EI’s pressure on international institutions led to the inclusion of tertiary education in the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Education Minister: Union role in SDGs
The conference was also addressed by Ghana’s Education Minister, Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang. “Education is key to development and has a transformative power,” she said, adding that the conference provided “such a rich context for sharing ideas, with so many countries represented”. The SDGs must be taken seriously, she said, with strategies needed to achieve the goals and make them relevant at national level. Highlighting the important role unions play in shaping the implementation of SDGs, she acknowledged the existence of pressing concerns, such as ethics, professionalism, standards and collective responsibility.
She insisted on the need to look at education systems horizontally and vertically, as “we are all in the same boat, and need to support each other, from early childhood education to higher education”. Privatisation, she said, is “an increasing phenomenon that needs to be halted”.
Privatisation and casualisation: solidarity needed
Stromquist also stressed that it appears to be difficult to unionise contingent faculty members given their part-time presence at universities and weak institutional affiliation. Unions need to work closer together for collective action, she said, adding that, in some institutions, an individualistic ethos that accepts competition as an indispensable institutional element prevails. Solidarity from tenure staff is needed, she concluded.
Gender: overcoming barriers in unions, societies and higher education
Participants recognised that academic structures, gender stereotypes, a segregated choice of education, and weak welfare states are major challenges to gender equality in academic careers. They agreed on recommendations for EI, such as the need for all policies to be analysed through a gender lens (within the union, the government, higher education institutions), a special session on higher education and research to be held at the 2017 EI women’s conference; and changes needed to the workings of academic careers, for them to be gender-sensitive to benefit both women and men.
The health of higher education institutions must be considered so that they can build on the productive capabilities of students rather than reducing them to market commodities. “Reducing students to the thinnest possible connection with education and to a mere transmission of work skills is not working for the student or the institution,” she said.
This conference brought together the further and higher education and research sectors, and built on the prior experiences and outcomes of previous EI International Higher Education and Research Conferences, as well as the successful first Further and Higher Education Caucus at the 7th World Congress in Ottawa, Canada.