How can we actively reduce inequality across education?
Professor Jeff Grabill, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education, reveals how digital transformation and international partnerships can address educational needs on a global scale.
24 January 2023 is the day that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates the fifth International Day of Education. The theme this year is “To invest in people, prioritise education”. At the University of Leeds, we celebrate as well — and the UNESCO theme is at the heart of our strategy.
In our University Strategy, we acknowledge that “Our planet and its population face unprecedented challenges including climate change, economic instability, inequality, poverty, refugee crises and, more recently the COVID-19 pandemic” and that education is fundamental to addressing these challenges. Indeed, education sits at the heart of each of the UN sustainable development goals.
“We can truly teach the world and bring our research and research-led education to huge numbers of people.”
The University of Leeds is committed to widening access to what we offer and ensuring that our students succeed. We recognise locally that addressing inequalities is our responsibility. We have a responsibility to train regional talent and to use our research and innovation for the betterment of our local society.
More broadly, all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals have the reduction of inequalities at their core, which means we also have a responsibility to address educational needs at a global scale. This is one reason why digital transformation is core to our work at Leeds, because one capacity it will enable is online education, which will allow us to create and scale the societal impact we deliver.
We can truly teach the world and bring our research and research-led education to huge numbers of people in the UK and across the globe — for both full-time students and learners in jobs who need to gain new skills. We can work and learn together with our own students, our wider regional communities, with business partners, and with colleagues in other universities and in other parts of the world.
We’re committed to equitably investing in people through education. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than our facilitation of the Knowledge Equity Network (KEN). KEN is a global, collaborative effort to capture our collective commitment and aspirations to reduce inequalities through increased access to knowledge.
“We must work in partnership with a wide range of institutions, organisations and individuals across the world.”
It begins with a global Declaration on Knowledge Equity. But a declaration isn’t sufficient. In the case of KEN, it is backed by commitments to action that are achievable and that will have an impact. KEN asks us to adopt open and collaborative practices of knowledge creation and dissemination, via a range of practices from scholarly communication to the resources we create and use for educational purposes.
Success will require cultures where equity, diversity, inclusiveness, collaboration and openness are paramount. And to be effective and to work within the spirit of the UN goals, we must work in partnership with a wide range of institutions, organisations and individuals across the world.
We cannot do this on our own, of course. That is the challenge and the beauty of working to address educational needs at a global scale. We must work together with increased passion, humility and determination. It is our public responsibility.
Professor Jeff Grabill is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education at the University of Leeds and leads the University’s overall education strategy.