Barcelona becomes the world capital of higher education

News - 13.5.2022

The local organiser of both events is the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi), chaired and coordinated by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), with the direct support of the Government of Spain, the Regional Government of Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council and the Diputació de Barcelona.

During this week, more than 2,000 people from all over the world will take part in person and more than 8,000 online.

Global Higher Education Week 2022

Between 16 and 20 May, a number of national and international institutions will organise a series of events throughout Barcelona to debate the future of higher education and university policy.

At the World Higher Education Week presentation ceremony, José Manuel Pingarrón, Secretary General for Universities, highlighted the "climate of collaboration that has existed between the different institutions involved in the organisation of both the World Conference and the programme of parallel events (Barcelona City Council, Barcelona Provincial Council, the Catalan Government, the Government of Spain and UNESCO)". Pingarrón emphasised "the overriding objective" shared by all the institutions, which is "to place higher education at centre stage for one week in order to enable its evolution and to offer a better service to our changing society".

The Executive Secretary of the ACUP and Director of GUNi, Josep M. Vilalta, emphasised that "during the World Week, thanks to the participation of national and international institutions, Barcelona will become the epicentre of the discussion on the future of universities around the world".

In addition to the UNESCO Conference, World Week features some fifteen events across the city organised by a total of 22 institutions. With an eye on the future of the university sector, Barcelona will lead the way in reflecting on, bringing innovation to and transforming higher education internationally. Other participating institutions include the Union for the Mediterranean, the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), Menéndez Pelayo University, the Times Higher Education magazine, the La Caixa Foundation, several international university networks, the Ministry of Universities, the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Barcelona City Council, the ACUP and the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE).

Vilalta added that "it is necessary to take advantage of the historic moment and the collaboration of all institutions to establish Barcelona as a world university capital". The approach of the institutions organising World Week is a long-term one: "Through a series of innovative programmes led by the global GUNi network in the coming years, we aim to become a knowledge hub and international benchmark for university affairs."

Victòria Alsina, Minister for External Action and Open Government of the Regional Government of Catalonia, spoke in similar terms: "The World Conference on Higher Education will turn Barcelona into the capital of education for a week. But the intention is that it will serve as a first step towards making Barcelona, and Catalonia, a benchmark knowledge centre for its extensive network of universities and research centres. We want to take advantage of the momentum and effort to crystallise new projects, such as the creation in Barcelona of a UNESCO Institute specialising in Higher Education. Rest assured that if UNESCO is looking for a partner to develop this initiative, it will find one in the Government of Catalonia."

World Conference on Higher Education

Barcelona will host the third UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (WHEC2022), a global benchmark event that will bring together nearly 2,000 people in person and nearly 8,000 people online. Barcelona will therefore become the capital of higher education for a week.

During the press conference, Jordi Martí, Deputy Mayor for Culture, Education, Science and Community of Barcelona City Council noted how "the choice of Barcelona to host the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education for the first time shows the city's potential as a global benchmark for university cities". The City Council representative stressed the importance of the parallel events during World Week, which "bring the debate and reflection on the future of our universities to the general public".

The president of the ACUP-GUNi and Rector of the University of Lleida, Jaume Puy, reflected on the importance of this event for the university sector: "After a few years of forced, sudden changes, it is a good time to rethink higher education. The world conference organised by UNESCO in Barcelona next week is a great opportunity to reflect on and debate what higher education needs to look like and what it has to do to meet the demands of a knowledge society. It is an opportunity to highlight the work of universities in the creation of knowledge and its transfer, institutions that have to lead a more sustainable, open, inclusive society that is concerned about people's well-being."

The first World Conference on Higher Education, in Paris in 1998, was intended to be a event held every ten years. For the very first time, the 2022 WHEC will be held outside UNESCO Headquarters. On this occasion, Barcelona will bring together a very diverse audience, including senior representatives of governments from around the world, rectors of universities worldwide, heads of international university networks, students, institutions, NGOs and businesses, as well as other experts in the field of higher education.

The aim of WHEC2022 is to rethink the ideas and practices of higher education to ensure the sustainable development of the planet and humanity. Through the collective efforts of the many stakeholders represented, the Conference aims to become a global conversation fuelled by varying narratives on higher education. In the framework of WHEC2022, UNESCO will present the roadmap that will guide the university sector over the next ten years so as to make it into a key player in the face of today's societal and health-related challenges and crises.

Commenting on the roadmap and the future of the sector, the Head of UNESCO's Higher Education Division, Peter Wells, emphasised that higher education, as "an integral part of the right to education, can and must contribute to forging a new social contract for education capable of unlocking talent and guiding the ecological and digital transition to a more just and sustainable future. To achieve this, higher education systems need to become more open, collaborative and resilient".

In this context, taking advantage of the impetus offered by the UNESCO remit, Barcelona aspires to become a world university capital, by following up on the conclusions and recommendations of WHEC2022 and implementing innovative, high-impact programmes promoted by the different institutions in the region, under the coordination of the GUNi global network.

For the Barcelona Provincial Council, President Núria Marín highlighted the implicit recognition in UNESCO's remit of the "advanced pedagogical tradition [of the region], which is based, as university education has been in Europe for centuries, on an active and powerful network of cities".

Among the events included in the Conference, the presentation of the new GUNi Global Report, entitled New Visions for Higher Education towards 2030, stands out. More than 90 experts from all over the world have participated in it, with the aim of reflecting on how to transform universities in response to the new social, economic, cultural and technological challenges and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The presentation will take place on Friday 20 May at 9.30am. Once the Report has been presented, it will be made available in open access on the web, with the aim of spreading knowledge worldwide.

WHEC2022 is directly supported by the Government of Spain, the Regional Government of Catalonia, Barcelona City Council and Barcelona Provincial Council. It is organised by UNESCO, in collaboration with GUNi and ACUP as the local strategic partners.

To access WHEC2022, the media will need to offer proof at this link.

Non official translation