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On the Road

with Valerie Wilk

In July, Roger Davis, president of the Nebraska State Education Association’s Higher Education Academy District, and I were Education International (EI) delegates to the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in Paris.

NEA is a member of EI, an international consortium of education unions that defends the rights of educators and students around the world. The delegation to the UNESCO conference comprised over 40 higher education faculty and union staff from 20 nations.

Education ministers and national leaders from around the globe spoke about higher education developments and plans for the future. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, addressed the unique role of community colleges in the U.S. higher education system.

Many government leaders—with the noted exception of Brazil’s Education Minister Fernando Haddad, who focused on the need to extend public investment in higher education to fight inequality—embraced a pro-privatization message.

A striking example of this came from Kapil Sibal, Indian Minister of Human Resource Development, who bluntly stated, “Higher education is just like manufacturing. You need to do it as quickly and as cheaply as possible.”

EI’s delegation played a key role as champion of the rights of academic workers, meeting with government delegations to discuss EI’s statement to the conference ( and lobbying at the conference to ensure that respect for higher education employees’ rights, including academic freedom, the right to unionize, and other fundamental rights, were included in the final UNESCO conference communiqué, which you can read at  

—Valerie Wilk coordinates NEA’s higher education activities

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