These are the central arguments of the Paris Message, entitled “Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education for the Future We Want”.
15 clear points call for for governments, higher education leaders, academic staff and students to take action now. In addition, a call is made for international cooperation on online, open and flexible systems to monitor take up, to promote north-south-south collaboration and to prepare for specific initiatives on quality summits, doctoral student collaboration and strengthened research and development.
The Paris Message has been issued by the Global High Level Policy Forum, organized by UNESCO in partnership with ICDE, held in Paris in June 2015. Over 150 participants – leading policy-makers, experts, senior management and stakeholders from higher education from all regions and more than 55 countries around the world - agreed to carry this message forward to their home countries and regions.
The number of students enrolled in higher education is forecast to rise to over 414 million in 2030, a four-fold increase since the turn of the century. “The global education community has a new point of departure to respond to the scale and urgency of demand for accessible, affordable and quality higher education,” says the Paris Message. Open and flexible education represents a core range of strategies within a variety of contexts, utilising media and information and communication technologies (ICT), to contribute to meeting this growing demand, while ensuring equity, access, and quality learning outcomes.
Teaching, research and innovation are critical to the mission of higher education institutions. The suggested United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 proposes “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030”. Online, open and flexible education systems provide capacity for higher education, supported by robust quality assurance and regulation, to provide routes for student success delivering large-scale and cost-effective pathways for certificates, diplomas, degrees, and higher level qualifications, and a range of non-formal learning activities such as massive open online courses (MOOCs).
“An essential component of the global response”
The recent World Education Forum, WEF, in Incheon acknowledged in its conclusionsthe importance of “flexible learning pathways as well as the recognition, validation and accreditation of knowledge, skills and competencies acquired through non-formal and informal education; and the use of information and communication technologies”. The Qingdao International Conference on ICT and Post-2015 Education, building on the WEF, set an ambitious agenda for the use of ICT, including mobile learning and open and online solutions, “to strengthen education systems, knowledge dissemination, information access, quality and effective learning, and more efficient service provision”.
The Paris Message goes further, being more specific and action oriented, arguing that online, open and flexible programmes represent an essential component of the global response:
“There is no time to lose. Now is the time for action."
The way ahead: opportunities and actions
The next step is to suggest actions for regional agendas to develop the theme ‘Higher education for the sustainable future we want. The way ahead for Online, Open and Flexible learning: Opportunities and Actions.’
This will be addressed at a High Level Policy Forum in Pretoria, South Africa, on 17 October 2015, organised by ICDE in partnership with UNESCO, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Open Education Consortium.
16 July 2015