COVID-19 exposed and deepened extreme inequities both in and across countries. The pandemic also highlighted the fragility of democratic systems, with the increasing erosion of participatory democracy, the strengthening of identity and nationalistic politics, and the promotion of populist anti-intellectualism, involving attacks on science and knowledge itself.

At the same time, demands for basic human rights, social and racial justice, and economic equity are increasing in many parts of the world. Opposition to police violence against Black people in the US, for example, has dramatically expanded multiracial activism through the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is part of a broader international reckoning regarding ethnic bigotry, the status and rights of refugees, and the obligation of Western countries to acknowledge and learn from their histories of racial, colonial and ethnic exploitation.

These developments are occurring as the planet has reached and daily exceeds a climate tipping point, further destabilizing human societies, precipitating massive waves of migration, and threatening to move millions more into poverty.

The need for higher education to promote sustainability and racial and social justice, as well as advance and maintain democracy, has never been more apparent.

Higher education institutions, perhaps uniquely, are expected to look both backwards and forwards, to understand history and forge innovation that fuels the future, creating and expanding a knowledge project that aims at the broadest social benefit. While each institution is a product of its particular national and local history, they also share a global context and democratic purpose. It is crucial that higher education institutions work together to realize that common purpose and stand for universal values necessary for democracy such as tolerance, equity, diversity, inclusivity, open inquiry, human rights and the rule of law.

It is time to fundamentally reimagine the modern college and university. The modern college and university must function as a genuine public good, adequately supported by national and state budgets and independent of political interference and control.  Higher education institutions can do so only if they can demonstrate that they do, in fact, serve the public good, teach and reach multiple communities, foster student leadership and engagement, treat students as members of the academic community rather than as clients, develop a knowledge project commensurate with the problems we face, and act with other institutions and communities to help solve those problems.

The 2022 Global Forum on “Higher Education Leadership for Democracy, Sustainability, and Social Justice” is an international gathering for higher education leaders and representatives of public authorities and local, regional, national, and international organizations that will provide an opportunity to critically explore and actively advance higher education’s role in constructing a more equitable, sustainable, democratic world.

The Global Forum will address the following questions:

  • How can universities and colleges work together locally, nationally, and globally to cooperatively respond to populist attacks on democracy itself, including attacks on electoral systems, free and independent media, and truth?
  • How does academia redesign and engage in social and racial justice work in democratic collaboration with others within and beyond its campus?
  • How does a commitment to the United Nations Agenda 2030 and related Sustainable Development Goals contribute to the university’s or college’s democratic mission as well as teaching and research and partnerships in the community and wider society?
  • What deeper and new relationships need to be built with our local communities, especially those most devastated by the pandemic and its aftermath, in light of persistent inequalities?
  • What new institutional practices help sustain and engage the most at-risk students, while ensuring that all students are educated to be ethical, empathetic, justice-seeking democratic citizens?

The Global Forum is designed to contribute to an international movement that reimagines how colleges and universities work with local and global partners to create more just, equitable, inclusive, sustainable democratic societies.  The Forum will be a unique opportunity for representatives from around the world to learn from and contribute to realizing higher education’s democratic mission.

This is the seventh global forum that has developed as a core component of a cooperation among the Council of Europe and the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy since 1999.  In 2018, the cooperation was expanded to include the Organization of American States; and in 2019, the International Association of Universities joined. In January 2021, the partners established the Global Cooperation for the Democratic Mission of Higher Education.

The Global Forum 2022 will be held June 16-17, 2022, hosted at Dublin City University, with an optional pre-conference session on the afternoon of June 15.

For more information, view the Conference summary page.