Education International
Education International

EI Conference: Higher education and research a public service

published 1 October 2012 updated 14 December 2012

EI members firmly committed to defending and promoting the professional, academic, trade union, and human rights of the higher education community. The commitment was made at EI’s 8th Higher Education and Research Conference, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 25-27 September.

During the closing ceremony of the conference, hosted by EI’s Argentinian affiliate, Confederación Nacional de Docentes Universitarios (CONADU), external consultant David Robinson reported on the main conclusions of the conference.

These included recommendations to both the EI Executive Board and EI Secretariat, such as the adoption of the Policy Statement on Tuition Fees. This statement asserts that tuition fees should not be charged at all, or be progressively reduced and eliminated.

Higher education and research is a fundamental right according to EI’s education policy passed at the last Congress, Graham McCulloch, EI Executive Board member, reminded participants.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of public authorities to guarantee it as a public service accessible for all.

McCulloch also transmitted EI's sincere gratitude to CONADU for their warm welcome and generous hospitality during the event.

Latin America’s Chief Regional Coordinator, Combertty Rodríguez, emphasised the major significance of the global forum: “Neoliberals used to tell us trade unions were doomed to disappear. This Conference is the living proof of the failure of their prediction.”

Forging international solidarity

Higher Education and research representatives firmly agreed to strengthen cooperation, information sharing and best practices around campaigning, organising, collective bargaining, as well as promoting equity within the sector.

A special emphasis was also placed on the need to strengthen international solidarity and development cooperation initiatives.

As a first step, a letter of solidarity with Colombian Professor, Miguel Angel Beltrán, was issued and signed by all participants. Prof. Beltrán was prosecuted for his academic work and jailed for two years, during which he suffered torture and poor treatments.

The EI letter of solidarity is seeking to obtain extra time  for Professor Beltrán to continue his current academic work outside of Colombia, until the authorities will be able to offer him guarantees for the protection of his life in that country.

Lobbying governments at global level

At the opening ceremony, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, addressed the challenges of the area. “Higher education sectors worldwide are confronted with the same problems. And, in fact, many of these problems are global challenges, requiring global solutions,” he pointed out.

There is a need for a coordinated international action to ensure both quality and equality in the public education system, by creating globally the conditions necessary for national governments to make the adequate investments, he stressed.

“We have consistently said in our interventions with UNESCO, the OECD, the World Bank, the G-20 and the IMF that investment in public education is critical to exiting the crisis,” van Leeuwen stated.

Higher education not for sale

Key issues debated at the Conference included the marketisation and trade in education and intellectual property, the casualisation (precarious work) of employment in the sector, the application of private-sector and for-profit management models on institutions, as well as the privatisation of provision.

Casualisation is becoming a big issue worldwide. For instance, in Latin America, excluding Brazil, nearly 80 per cent of academics are so-called “taxi-cab” professors. That is, they are employed on a temporary and often per-course basis and forced to shuttle between different institutions in an attempt to earn a living.

Therefore, participants agreed on the need for collecting information from affiliates concerning the status of precarious and fixed-term employment in the sector, as well as early-stage researchers.

Other issues discussed included: defending research in the public interest; challenging the politics of accountability such as university rankings; organising student teachers, early-stage teachers and researchers; and respecting equality and diversity within the sector.

Participants also reflected on how austerity measures are affecting the sector worldwide, and discussed ways that higher education and research unions can more effectively defend the profession through organising, mobilising, and political action.

EI strength

“By standing together, we are stronger and can successfully meet the many challenges faced by higher education and research institutions, trade unions, staff, and students in the current economic and political climate,” said EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards.

”Education International is your organisation, and its strength is built upon the strength of its members.”

The 9th International Higher Education and Research Conference will take place in the Africa region in 2014.

Additional links:

Main conclusions of the EI’s 8th Higher Education and Research Conference can be found here

To read EI General Secretary Fred Van Leeuwen’s full address to the Higher Education Conference please click here

EIAL Picture gallery here