Advancing EU-LAC cooperation in higher education on the margins of WHEC 2022 in Barcelona

On the occasion of the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education 2022 (WHEC2022), 17-20 May 2022, the Executive Director of the EU-LAC Foundation, Dr Adrián Bonilla, and the Senior Programme Coordinator, Dr Anna Barrera, travelled to Barcelona at the invitation of the WHEC.

On 19 May, the EU-LAC Foundation and OBREAL Global co-organised the roundtable "Innovations and proposals for interregional cooperation in Open Science from a university perspective" as an official side event of WHEC2022. The aim of the conference was to open the door to new innovative and creative conceptions of universities' contributions to the sustainable development agenda and to pave the way for future learning communities that overcome barriers and are inclusive of all learners throughout their lives. Speakers agreed that improved data sharing practices could put an end to duplication of research efforts by scientists from different parts of the world. This would make data more readily available in established repositories, saving the costs and time involved in conducting research on a topic that has already been investigated and published.

In addition to participating in the international conference together with numerous representatives of universities, and higher education institutions, as well as delegates from the Ministries of Higher Education and Science, Technology and Innovation of different countries, the EU-LAC Foundation held a series of events and meetings with strategic partners. Dr Bonilla attended the event "Iberoamerica - European Union: A shared look at the future of Higher Education", organised by the Iberoamerican General Secretariat (SEGIB), the Spanish Ministry of Universities, the Iberoamerican University Council (CUIB) and the University of Barcelona with the support of the EU-LAC Foundation. The event was held at the University of Barcelona where Dr Bonilla gave a speech on academic and scientific relations between the European Union (EU) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the closing session of the event.

On the same day, the public presentation of the survey "Trends in Higher Education in Latin America" was also held, convened by OBREAL Global and ENLACES (Latin American and Caribbean Higher Education Area) with the support of the EU-LAC Foundation. The TRESAL survey is a new regional instrument to systematically collect data on the main institutional challenges and trends in LAC Higher Education institutions that will support the regional integration process and serve as a tool to facilitate inter-regional relations between Higher Education systems. Together with ASCUN, CSUCA, ANDIFES and AUGM, the EU-LAC Foundation is part of the TRESAL advisory committee. During his speech at the presentation of the survey, Dr Bonilla emphasised the relevance of the survey and proposed criteria against which the social responsibility of universities towards their respective societies should be measured.

This was followed by the "Debate on Higher Education and the SDGs: Interregional perspectives", organised by the Association of African Universities (AAU), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), ENLACES and OBREAL Global at the University of Barcelona, again with the support of the Foundation, was held to address the relationship between higher education institutions and the Sustainable Development Goals, as seen from different regions of the world and their representative organisations, and to share some current initiatives related to how the higher education sector has contributed to the achievement of the SDGs. As a follow-up to the activity, the EU-LAC Foundation is organising a follow-up workshop on the topic to be held in the context of the 9th Latin American and Caribbean Conference of Social Sciences (CLACSO) in Mexico City on 10 June 2022.

Taking advantage of the presence of the EU-LAC Foundation in Barcelona, numerous bilateral meetings were held to address synergies and common interests with partners and stakeholders. In this regard, Dr Bonilla and Dr Barrera met with Dr Myriam Moïse, Secretary-General of Universities of the Caribbean, and later with Alfons Martinell Sempere, co-founder of Interarts and Honorary Director of the UNESCO Chair "Cultural Policies and Cooperation". Thirdly, there was a meeting with the Colombian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, José Crissien Borrero, the Vice-Minister of Talent and Social Appropriation of Knowledge, Nelson José Orozco Salgado, and Oscar Domínguez, Executive Director of ASCUN, in which they exchanged on the shared interest in advancing the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation (JIRI). Finally, Dr Bonilla and Dr Barrera met with Andreas Corcoran, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Association of Universities (IAU), and Giorgio Marinoni, Director of Higher Education and Internationalisation of the IAU.

Concluding the mission to Barcelona, the last side event of the WHEC 2022 entitled "The role of universities in achieving the 2030 Agenda, human security and the culture of peace: A Euro-Latin American perspective", convened by the EU-LAC Permanent Academic Forum (FAP ALC-UE) was held at Casa América Catalunya. The seminar linked the key issues addressed in UNESCO's WHEC2022 to the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular quality education (SDG 4), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16), and partnerships to achieve the goals (SDG 17).

The EU-LAC Foundation's mission to Barcelona has succeeded in providing valuable impulses for the ongoing debate on the future of Higher Education systems, specifically from an inter-regional approach. After two pandemic years in which activities and meetings with higher education and scientific actors were held exclusively in digital format, WHEC 2022 offered a welcome change to get back in more personal contact with the people with whom the Foundation has been collaborating intensively in recent years.

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