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Scope and quality: a call to universities around the world

  Foto: Conferència Internacional IAU 2019

Foto: Conferència Internacional IAU 2019

Helena Loaiza

According to a recent OECD forecast, by the year 2030, 400 million people will be seeking access to university education. Quality online higher education, like that offered by the UOC, could be the answer.

Together with the transformation of higher education for the future, this forecast was one of the central themes addressed at the annual International Association of Universities (IAU) conference held recently in Puebla, Mexico, which brought together university leaders from across the globe.

Pastora Martínez Samper, UOC Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation, and Antoni Cahner, UOC General Manager, took part in the respective discussions Towards sustainable societies with higher education and Is financing shaping the future of higher education?, where they explained how quality online higher education can increase access to and the scope of university education.


Universities' role as outlined in the 2030 Agenda

The 2030 Agenda is the United Nations' first to include access to higher education as one of its educational priorities; this poses considerable challenges to countries around the world and a great opportunity for universities to provide quality options for all prospective students.

"Despite the new possibilities offered by the growth of the internet and ICTs, there are still considerable levels of global inequality when it comes to accessing education and knowledge," said Martínez Samper, highlighting how "the UOC's globalization and cooperation strategy is focused on planning endeavours and projects that aim to reduce the educational and societal gap".

From the outset, the UOC has accompanied the Catalan university system and provided quality education for everyone who, for whatever reason, cannot physically attend university. Today, with an exclusively online educational model, the UOC offers courses to students in more than 134 countries and strives to provide access to higher education for all.

Martínez Samper also spoke about the UOC's work with international bodies such as UNITAR, UNWTO and WHO and the efforts to train experts and international civil servants with a view to facilitating learning over the course of their careers and making improvements to their workplaces and working environments. ​

As part of her presentation, she also explained the UOC's online mobility programmes, which have allowed 1,122 people from university institutions such as UNIMINUTO in Colombia, the University of Talca in Chile and the Universidad Cayetano de Heredia in Peru to experience what it's like studying at a European university by taking one or more courses over a semester at the UOC, without having to leave their homes.


E-learning quality in higher education

Quality education is essential for ensuring sustainable social development. With this in mind, over recent years the UOC has been working with higher education bodies from around the world, such as the Ibero-American System for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (SIACES), the National Accreditation Commission in Chile, the Council for the Accreditation of Higher Education (COPAES) in Mexico and Ecuador's Council for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (CACES), accompanying them in the task of incorporating and accrediting quality online higher education. Likewise, the UOC offers the Master's Degree in Quality Management and Evaluation in Higher Education in conjunction with the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU Catalunya).

The UOC's general manager, Antoni Cahner, remarked how "the creation of online universities could be the solution to our growing need for higher education the world over," but warned that "higher education legislation needs to allow for and recognize online higher education [and] quality assurance agencies must guarantee the quality of online education".


University leadership: the UOC and the IAU

The UOC has prioritized membership of a small number of international networks, including the IAU. It is working closely with the association to establish alliances that can showcase universities vital role in social transformation and lead to changes to public policy that affect these alliances directly.

This conference marked the culmination of two years during which the UOC has been strengthening its relationship with the IAU, working together on multiple projects. Indeed, the UOC is leading the IAU cluster focusing on SDG 3, on good health and well-being, which was formed to defend universities' essential role in sustainable development. The UOC also participated in the event organized by the IAU during the United Nations' High-level Political Forum.

In March, the UOC hosted the first of a series of institutional visits to universities at the forefront of incorporating technology into higher education. It was also one of the main universities featured in the documentary video series produced by BBC StoryWorks and the IAU exploring the different ways in which higher education plays a transformative role in society.

UOC experts

Photograph of Pastora Martínez

Pastora Martínez Samper

Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation

Expert in: Management and assessment of research, responsible research and innovation, and open science.

Knowledge area: Political science.

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