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UNESCO and Microsoft Announce Higher Ed Task Force

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Microsoft have teamed up to help higher education institutions worldwide meet the growing challenge of supporting economic stimulus efforts and workforce development strategies. The UNESCO-Microsoft Task Force on Higher Education and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) will create a strategic plan of action to identify how ICT can be used by governments as a catalyst for change.

The announcement was made at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (WCHE), which took place recently in Paris. The conference, which drew a global audience of ministers of education, senior representatives from education organizations, and policy advisors, focused on critical issues around reduced funding for education as a result of the economic crisis and the need for governments to find affordable measures for short-term skills training and workforce enhancement in support of economic recovery and growth. Many delegations in attendance from developing regions emphasized the longer-term challenges of sustainable higher education reform and capacity-building.

The task force will analyze the findings and recommendations of the WCHE, in addition to feedback from global higher education experts and others, to identify key initiatives that will promote more effective use of ICT in post-secondary teaching, learning, and research.

"Higher education is increasingly strategic for building up skilled work forces in countries," said Nicholas Burnett, UNESCO assistant director-general for education. "Our focus has been on ensuring that tertiary institutions address the key long-term requirements of our increasingly knowledge-based societies and that students today are best equipped to drive and support economic growth and to address major development challenges from education to health to the environment. Through the creation of the [task force] we will help mobilize critical strategic resources to better assist ministries of education worldwide."

For its part, Microsoft will provide a $50 million package of resources for short-term higher education enhancements, including curriculum, training, and affordable access to collaboration and development software.

"We believe that technology has a vital role to play in building up 21st-century skills, broadening access to education and personalizing the learning experience to adapt teaching to the unique needs of each learner," said Michael Golden, Microsoft's corporate vice president for the Education Products Group. "This program makes technology resources more accessible ... to governments and students across the world."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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