On 20 May 2022, the International Institute of Online Education (IIOE) Roundtable Meeting was successfully held at Fira de Barcelona. The International Centre for Higher Education Innovation under the auspices of UNESCO (UNESCO-ICHEI), University of Nairobi (Kenya), Ain Shams University (Egypt), Universiti Putra Malaysia (Malaysia), and UNESCO co-hosted the roundtable meeting as the main event of the World Higher Education Conference 2022 (WHEC2022).
Since its establishment in December 2019, IIOE has attracted wide participation and attention from policymakers, higher education institutions (HEIs), enterprises and international organisations, renowned itself as an important platform for digital transformation of higher education in developing countries. The roundtable meeting, themed “IIOE: Towards a Shared Future of Higher Education Digital Transformation“, invites global partner HEIs and enterprises of IIOE jointly evaluated the achievements of IIOE so far, discussed key issues of IIOE and global higher education, and set agendas on IIOE’s future development plan.
At this roundtable meeting, representatives of UNESCO-ICHEI delivered keynote speeches to present the achievements of IIOE and officially released a series of research publications on the digital transformation of higher education. Representatives from international organisations and enterprises engaged in the the following two roundtable discussions, responding to IIOE’s achievements, models and experiences with further suggestions on its future development. Also, UNESCO-ICHEI, collaborating with global partners, released a plan for future cooperation with the launch of digital platform available in six UN-official languages and the Smart Classrooms Project.
Ms YU Xiaoping, Counsellor of the Permanent Delegation of the People’s Republic of China to UNESCO and Prof. Stephen Kiama Gitahi, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, Kenya (2022 IIOE Rotating Presidency Unit) delivered the opening remarks.
Ms YU Xiaoping indicated that a series of projects initiated by UNESCO-ICHEI, including the International Institute of Online Education (IIOE), research series to support higher education digital transformation and Smart Classrooms, contribute positively to the south-south cooperation and the initiative of Future of Education launched by UNESCO. She also expressed her wish for a successful roundtable.
Prof. Stephen Kiama Gitahi (Board Member of Global MOOC and Online Education Alliance) recognised the role IIOE plays in training higher education professionals, as well as in promoting higher education digital transformation of HEIs in developing countries. He stated that as the IIOE rotating president unit in 2022, University of Nairobi will closely work with UNESCO-ICHEI to support all IIOE partner HEIs in catalysing digital transformation in local contexts.
UNESCO Category I institutions, high-level senior officials of the department of education, higher education institutions from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe, and representatives from University of Nairobi (Kenya), Ain Shams University (Egypt), Universiti Putra Malaysia (Malaysia), and several key partner HEIs of UNESCO-ICHEI gathered together and joined the discussion. Prof. Nadia Badrawi, President of Arab Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ANQAHE), a Board Member of the National Authority for Quality Assurance in Education in Egypt, the Advisory Council of the CHEA International Quality Group (CIQG), the Global Pediatrics Education Consortium (GPEC) and the National Medical Sector Committee for Planning and Development in Egypt; Dr. Ethel Agnes P Valenzuela, Director of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Secretariat; Dr. Choltis Dhirathiti, Executive director of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) University Network; Prof. Badarch Dendev, Mongolian University of Science and Technology (co-founding member of the Global MOOC and Online Education Alliance) Adviser, high-level education delegates of WHEC participating countries, representatives from UNESCO, and UNESCO-ICHEI’s partner enterprises attended the meeting and joined discussions.
Prof. LI Ming, Director of UNESCO-ICHEI, detailed IIOE’s theoretical models and practices to empower higher education systems, institutions, and teachers in developing countries. During his keynote speech, he contended that digital transformation has become a vital issue for the future development of higher education; The key to achieving digital transformation lies in the digital transformation of teachers’ capacities. Since December 2019, with the full recognition and support of UNESCO’s Division of Higher Education at Headquarters, UNESCO’s local agencies and partners from all sectors, IIOE has become a key project in empowering global HEIs and teachers’ digital transformation. Through multilingual courses on digital transformation, free course design tools, and policy guidelines on quality assurance, IIOE has supported over 12,000 teachers from 135 countries and regions.
As a global online education exchange and sharing platform for higher education, Prof. LI Ming also expressed that IIOE fully absorbs global practices and diligently mobilises resources with the development principle of “extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefit”. The establishment of IIOE results from multilateral cooperation and embodies the spirit of “university-industry cooperation”. Till now, IIOE has grown into an alliance for higher education digital transformation, covering 36 HEIs and 22 partner enterprises in 30 countries, with services reaching 135 countries and regions worldwide. In the future, IIOE will continue to support the digital transformation of HEIs worldwide. These efforts include supporting training programmes in the six UN official languages, expanding partners in Central Asia and Latin America, constructing IIOE National Centres, launching micro-certifications for teachers realising digital transformation, and developing university-industry talent development programmes. IIOE is keen to continuously expand its collaboration with stakeholders to build an inclusive, harmonious, diverse and innovative ecosystem for the future of higher education.
Ms BI Xiaohan, Director assistant and Programme Office Chief of UNESCO-ICHEI, hosted the first seminar themed “Practices and future of IIOE: Perspectives of multiple stakeholders.” Representatives from UNESCO Category I institutes, IIOE partner HEIs and enterprises discussed the achievement, modes, and future development of IIOE from different perspectives.
Dr. David Atchoarena, Director of UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, provided his insights into the significance of IIOE in empowering HEIs to address the challenges of digital transformation from the perspective of lifelong learning. He noted that digital transformation of higher education has been prioritized in HEIs and IIOE’s current and future work, especially the provision of micro-credentials, will be an important way of facilitating and recognising blocks of learning, contributing to lifelong learning. He also highly appreciated the broader cooperation among multi-stakeholders, which provides an integral platform for promoting equitable education and making technology a common and public good.
“The element of multistakeholders in IIOE provides an important platform to alleviate education inequalities and make technology a common and public good.”Dr. David Atchoarena
Prof. Mona Abdel-Aal Elzahry, Director of Education Strategy Administration, Ain Shams University, Egypt (2020 IIOE First Rotating Presidency Unit) believed that the digital transformation of higher education can be initiated with pedagogical shifts, and followed by cultural and technological shifts. Aligning with the rule, IIOE has been playing a supportive role in organising various capacity building activities, raising competencies for faculties to cultivate digital culture and help teachers in Ain Shams University cope with these dramatic changes and adapting to digital transformation of higher education. She hoped that a joint effort with Egyptian universities with UNESCO-ICHEI, and all other global partner universities in the IIOE initiative could build a network of all Egyptian universities and construct a national platform of dialogue for faculty development for all higher education workforce in Egypt, and also focus on co-construction programmes tailored to educational strategies, context, and needs of Egypt and all Egyptian universities.
“IIOE activities were very supportive at that time of Covid-19 in raising these competencies for faculties to help them cope with these dramatic changes in educational infrastructure.”Prof. Mona Abdel-Aal Elzahry
Ms. Lesley White, Deputy VP of HR in the Western European Region for Huawei, emphasised that Huawei is keen to develop digital talent for the future, which is highly compatible with IIOE’s mission. As a key contributor to IIOE, Huawei will continue to communicate and collaborate with government, higher education authorities, international organisations and other parties to bridge the digital divide and ensure that nobody is left behind.
“We (Huawei) take our role very seriously in developing the digital talent for the future, which highly aligns with IIOE’s mission. Digital talent is needed for digital transformation.”Ms. Lesley White
The transformation of applying innovative research findings into practice plays an integral role in digital transformation of higher education. In the second session of the meeting, Ms. BI Xiaohan hosted the release of the series of research publications on the digital transformation of higher education, which demonstrates collective efforts of global experts with the support of UNESCO-ICHEI and the Institute of Education (IOE) at Tsinghua University (co-founding member of the Global MOOC and Online Education Alliance). In the context of the vigorous development of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain, the three handbooks and the research report provide a systematic review of the theories, concepts, and practices of higher education digital transformation, and cover cases of innovative practices from countries and regions worldwide, which have demonstrated how evidence-based guidelines can be integrated into local practices. Experts specialising in higher education gathered together from UNESCO Category I institutions and regional offices and from Asian and Arabic regions, joined the discussion of the digital transformation of higher education.
Dr. Francesc Pedro, Director of UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC), suggested further application of the research findings. He pointed out that the results of the project could first be applied to address the urgent problem of online teaching against the backdrop of the epidemic; and in the future, through multi-sectoral collaborations within UNESCO, the research publications could overhaul the pedagogy and promote the development of online blended teaching and learning with advances in technology.
“The research publication may firstly apply to coming up with solutions to the urgent online pedagogical issue during pandemic. Through future collaborations among UNESCO institutes and offices, findings from academic research can also inform pedagogical and technological reforms and improve OBTL development.”Dr. Francesc Pedro
Mr. Abdoulaye Salifou, Regional Advisor for Higher Education and ICT at UNESCO Abuja Regional Office, contended that the research findings could navigate the future of higher education. The emerging challenges faced by HEIs, such as climate change, hunger, the COVID-19 pandemic, and employment. With a focus on the theme of integrating ICT and digital technology into education, the research provides new perspectives on solving these problems. He stressed that UNESCO-ICHEI and IIOE have been key partners for UNESCO Abuja Regional Office in promoting integration of technology and education in western Africa and looked forward to further cooperation.
“The research project focused on the application of ICT and digital technology in higher education, providing new pathways to tackle with issues such as climate change, hunger, pandemic, and employment.”Mr. Abdoulaye Salifou
Prof. Ismi Arif Ismail, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and International) of Universiti Putra in Malaysia, championed the shared views of educational experts, policymakers, enterprises and community leaders as reflected in the research reports. The research findings, thus, will facilitate the formulation of forward-looking, user-oriented, dynamics policy in responding to diverse needs and cultivate talents equipped with competences for future development.
“The research project invites researchers, policy makers, industry player and community leaders to sit down to discuss how we can come up with a policy that is inclusive, a policy that is future-driven, to ensure that we can help counties to remain agile and resilient. To prepare their people, to ensure that they are prepared for the future living and future learning.”Prof. Ismi Arif Ismail
Dr. Dalia Ahmed Yusuf, Director of the e-Learning Central Unit at Ain Shams University, noted that UNESCO-ICHEI’s publications and knowledge products provided policy recommendations, guidelines, and practical frameworks with various tools for digital transformation. Ain Shams University will gain a lot of knowledge of prior implementation and analysis of educational digital transformation projects in other countries, which helps implement distinguished and varied online and blended learning. She also called on HEIs to maintain dialogue with all stakeholders and industry partners to understand the needs and requirements for the digital transformation in higher education and promote multilateral joint research.
“We (Ain Shams University) will definitely gain a lot of knowledge of prior implementation and analysis of educational digital transformation projects in other countries, which means a lot to realise quality and diverse online and blended teaching and learning.”Dr. Dalia Ahmed Yusuf
In the final session of the roundtable, participating representatives from UNESCO institutes, IIOE Rotating Presidency Units, active partner universities, and partner enterprises including Huawei, Createview and Seewo, jointly launched the IIOE services in six UN-official languages, the Smart Classrooms Project, and the collaboration between UNESCO IESALC and UNESCO-ICHEI. IIOE will continuously cooperate with government departments, higher education institutions, international organisations, and enterprises in the future. All parties will collectively produce multilingual teaching and learning resources, research projects on the digital transformation of higher education and the Smart Classrooms Project to make them available to a broader audience. IIOE is willing to work with its partners towards a shared future of digital transformation of higher education, dedicated to the Futures of Education initiative of UNESCO to realise an inclusive and equitable quality higher education and the call for “Open Science”.