Unspeakable wealth inequality stands in the way of achieving SDG 4

by MMC
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When I analyze the challenges of expanding access and success in higher education, there is a quote I use frequently from Professor Charles Hopkins, UNESCO Chair at York University in Toronto, Canada, who stated, although in 2011, that although globally only 6.7% of people had a university degree, more than 80% of industry decision-makers, of community and politics had one.

In other words, higher education is an opportunity, social mobility and a tool for shaping society.

However, as we all know, higher education unfortunately remains a privilege to which a large majority of people still do not have access.

Based on the conviction that unjust economic and political realities are maintained and reproduced by an unjust and unrepresentative distribution of power in society, we, Global Student Forum (GSF) are convinced that equitable access to higher education can shift this power and sustainably transform socio-economic realities.

Therefore, higher education must be made accessible to everyone, regardless of financial status, disability, race, gender and sexual orientation.

We advocate for a rights-based approach to equip and support vulnerable groups, including political, ethnic and religious minorities, migrant or refugee communities as well as indigenous peoples, so that they can access higher education through flexible pathways, recognition of prior qualifications, affirmative action and targeted grants to break down economic barriers.

Furthermore, our higher education systems must be decolonized and indigenized to include the critical sensitivities, traditions, cultures, and worldviews of previously marginalized and excluded voices.

At the same time, we also need to reshape curricula to include a more direct link to employment, entrepreneurship, skills and professional learning to attract students from diverse backgrounds.

Access to primary and secondary education

I now want to address what we consider to be the most important aspect of the equity discourse and provide an overarching perspective related to our ongoing advocacy efforts within the United Nations framework.

And although the emphasis is on Expanding access to the higher education network (WAHEN) focuses mainly on higher education, I would like to talk about access to primary and secondary education as a basis and prerequisite for a higher education path.

In monitoring the UN Summit to Transform Education 2022 and throughout 2023, we have worked closely with our members and colleagues at ActionAid and the TaxEd Alliance to mobilize our voters, build capacity, and campaign focused on the tax justice imperative for publicly and sufficiently finance education, including the right to higher education.

For what? Because for decades, the student movement, teachers’ unions and other civil society actors have been calling for quality, universal and free public education, these calls are however so often neglected by leaders who do not perceive the education as a long-term investment.

They view this as a simple expense, especially in a crisis, and hide behind the excuse of insufficient funds available.

Shortage of 70 million teachers

We therefore find ourselves today in a world where financing gap to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) in low- and lower-middle-income countries is estimated at $148 billion per year.

This means that due to lack of financial resources and poor working conditions, we are there is a shortage of around 70 million teachers are needed at primary and secondary levels globally, as reported by UNESCO in 2016.

There is no doubt that SDG 4 cannot be achieved by 2030 without a significant and well-targeted increase in financing, particularly in countries furthest from achieving quality education for all.

We also know that the necessary investments are only possible if governments can mobilize domestic funds and strengthen public education systems through increased tax revenue, because the lion’s share of education funding97% comes from national budgets.

Throughout the pandemic, national education budgets have been further reduced, public debt has increased significantly, and an already underfunded education sector has found itself in an even more precarious state, increasing marketization trends. and the influence of for-profit actors, particularly in developing countries, hitting the most marginalized hardest.

COVID has also shown once again how our international system and international financial architecture works: we have helped big corporations and rich countries instead of people and nations in need.

We know that only 0.13% of the $12 trillion in global COVID-19 relief has been spent. assigned multilateral financing for low-income countries.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) emergency special drawing rights at the height of the pandemic – essentially the IMF giving governments the prerogative to print money – allocated on average 2,000 US dollars per European child but only 60 US dollars per African child.

Ending hoarding and exploitation

If we truly want to leave no one behind, as the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development so boldly states, the international community must accept that we must end the era of extractivism of resources and colonial exploitation of developing countries. countries to adapt more to the accumulation of unimaginable non-productive capital by a few – to a degree never before seen in human history.

Across the regions, our unions have denounced the role of large multinationals who exploit tax loopholes and encourage corruption in order to evade their tax responsibilities.

Multinational corporations, technology companies and the private sector as a whole can be great allies when it comes to education, but it seems that for decades they have deliberately misunderstood their role.

As economic actors, their role is not to lead philanthropic initiatives in education, but rather to pay their taxes in full to support public education by expanding tax space.

This is why a serious political movement for the right to education and the right to higher education must be a movement that aims to end tax privileges and preferential treatment given to big corporations and the very rich – because the money they steal is stolen from young people. people, schools, universities, hospitals and other crucial public service institutions.

At a systemic level, we must achieve equitable representation of developing countries in global financial decision-making. Note that Belgium, the country I live in, and the UK together have more votes in the IMF than all sub-Saharan countries combined.

We must also end discrimination in special drawing rights and end austerity and public sector pay constraints where they affect education. We must also establish fair tax and trade rules with developing countries as equal partners – removing the OECD’s tax monopoly and regulating global taxation under a UN convention.

The debt question

Ultimately, this will also have to mean allowing debt cancellation and reallocation for countries whose annual debt service exceeds their education spending.

It has been said – and I completely agree – that increased funding is not the only solution. Equity and inclusion are complex and multifaceted issues. However, closing the education financing gap to achieve SDG 4 is a question of justice, a question of giving a chance to the most vulnerable.

I hope that whatever comes out of WAHEN’s plans to advance action on expanding access and success will be serious about these deeply political and fundamental underlying issues.

We must understand and recognize that the unspeakable wealth inequality in our world is ultimately what is depriving the public of billions of dollars and 250 million out-of-school children of their right to education.

Sebastian Berger is the Executive Director of the Global Student Forum and former Vice-President of the European Union of Students. He is also co-chair of the Education and Academia Stakeholders Group of the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. This article is an edited version of a speech he gave to WAHEN in Oxford, UK, in late September.

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