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Cablegate: Unesco - Pilot Portal Project Proposal On Recognized Higher

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Lucia A Keegan 11/07/2006 03:02:15 PM From DB/Inbox: Lucia A Keegan

Cable
Text:


UNCLAS PARIS 07256

SIPDIS
cxparis:
ACTION: UNESCO
INFO: POL ECON AMBU AMB AMBO DCM SCI

DISSEMINATION: UNESCOX
CHARGE: PROG

APPROVED: AMB: LVOLIVER
DRAFTED: EDU: SLOVEJOY
CLEARED: NONE

VZCZCFRI728
RR RUEHC RUCNSCO
DE RUEHFR #7256/01 3111117
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071117Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2906
INFO RUCNSCO/UNESCO COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PARIS 007256

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FROM USMISSION UNESCO PARIS

FOR ECA/A - MARYANNE CRAVEN AND TOM FARRELL
FOR USAID - JOE CARNEY AND BUFF MACKENZIE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: UNESCO SCUL
SUBJECT: UNESCO - PILOT PORTAL PROJECT PROPOSAL ON RECOGNIZED HIGHER
EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS


1. Summary. On November 13-14, 2006, UNESCO is hosting a meeting of
the pilot project steering committee for the UNESCO portal on
recognized higher education institutions. Judith Eaton, President
of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, is the designated
US steering committee member. This portal pilot project idea came
out of discussions during the UNESCO/OECD cross-border higher
education guidelines negotiations, which led to the issuance of the
non-binding guidelines by the two bodies last year. End Summary.

2. During the guidelines negotiations, the U.S. successfully argued
to de-link the information project from the guidelines document
itself, and also that any information project to support the
guidelines' implementation and goals should consist only of a simple
portal limited to a website link, which would direct users to the
information on recognized higher education institutions created by
national authorities within their countries. During the guidelines
negotiations, the U.S. informally offered to participate in the
pilot portal project as one of the pilot countries, in part so that
we could maintain involvement in its development. The USG also
believes that it is important to have a mix of countries in the
pilot, including some with highly developed higher education and
accreditation systems, as well as countries that need assistance in
that area. State's ECA Bureau is looking into possibilities for
providing modest funding and/or advice by U.S. experts for the pilot
project, so that we have a defined role as a stakeholder and also to
demonstrate our support for capacity building in this area.

3. The USG and others, mainly Australia and Great Britain, opposed
efforts during the guidelines negotiations for a UNESCO created and
controlled database that could potentially supersede national
authorities in determining quality standards for higher education as
well as being very expensive, and virtually impossible to maintain
as accurate.

4. OECD input: The OECD has largely allowed UNESCO to take the lead
on future steps for the Guidelines. The United States has made it
clear that formal implementation of the Guidelines was never agreed
upon, but was willing to allow for a portal that simply redirected
users to appropriate national authorities. At an OECD Ministerial
on Higher Education in Athens, Greece this past June, an
international education scheme was supported by several countries,
particularly in Europe, as the future for higher education. U.S.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was quick to explain that

SIPDIS
the basis of the U.S. higher education system is so vastly different
than the rest of the world, that such a system would not be
effective in the United States.

5. Last summer, during a meeting of the steering committee, the
committee asked UNESCO to reduce the cost of this proposal to fully
reflect the concept of a narrow informational portal rather than an
expansive database. However, the current draft portal proposal does
not reflect that request. The UNESCO proposal requests over
$400,000 to fund the project, although one UNESCO higher education
official has indicated that they are not seeking the whole amount in
monetary contributions, and could accept technical or in-kind
assistance as a portion of the support.

6. In addition, no agreement was reached on the number of pilot
projects that would be funded or that African countries would
receive priority, as outlined in the agenda for the November
meeting. Concerns have been expressed that this approach by UNESCO
takes decision-making authority away from nations that volunteered
to participate in the pilot, including the US, and transfers it to
the Secretariat. This could lead to inclusion of countries in the
pilot that have no capacity to contribute either financially or
technically, and which may produce a wish list of what they would
want in a major database rather than using the model of a simple
portal. In addition, phrases in the draft proposal provided for
the meeting, such as "structured access", and "protecting students
from misleading guidance and information, rogue providers, and
qualifications of limited validity" also raise concerns for the USG.
Such terminology suggests that the Secretariat may wish to decide
what is "misleading guidance" and who are "rogue providers" in a
centrally prepared list of institutions, rather than having the
agreed-upon simple informational portal that links to national sites
controlled by each country's national education authorities (whether
governmental or non-governmental.) The latter structure would allow
users to make their own decisions regarding educational providers
based on the information provided by national authorities.

7. In order to ensure that this portal remains only informational
and does not become a UNESCO controlled database, the USG may have
to intervene at this steering committee meeting to make those
points. The USG should also reinforce the point that results from
the pilot project for the portal should be gathered and assessed,
before any effort is made to expand this activity beyond the initial
pilot.

8. In addition, the USG could consider providing targeted support to
the pilot portal initiative, which would give us a degree of
"ownership" in the process, more information and control, and would
also demonstrate our support for capacity building in this area.
This could be accomplished either through actual dollars or in-kind
support or both. In addition, the Council for Higher Education
Accreditation (CHEA) has also offered $10,000 to UNESCO for this
project. We understand that UNESCO initially expressed reluctance
to accept non-governmental funding for this activity, but we might
want to encourage UNESCO to reconsider that position. In addition,
UNESCO may be open to accepting expert assistance as a form of
support for this activity. Perhaps ECA and the Mission could offer
the assistance of a Fulbright senior specialist, or a US Speaker
(arranged by IIP or directly by our posts under the speaker program)
to consult either at UNESCO, or in one or more of the pilot
countries for this project, to help them develop or improve their
higher education information systems in-country.

9. Also, having the USAID global learning portal provide a
technological "home" for the portal activity, if this is feasible,
is another opportunity to have more control over this project and
reduce its costs. We would need to explore this with USAID and with
UNESCO. Finally, CHEA has also offered to advise and consult
informally on this project, as an "in-kind" contribution and perhaps
other U.S. higher education and accreditation associations would be
willing to advise as well.

10. The USG needs to closely monitor how this pilot project is
developed so that it is constituted as a simple informational portal
for users to access higher education information created by national
authorities rather than a major new central database. Expansion of
this project beyond a portal could result in UNESCO attempting to
dictate what constitutes a quality higher educational institution,
thus superseding national authority and even leading to
international regulation of higher education institutions, which the
USG strongly opposes. Given the comments made during the
Francophonie meeting this summer that education should not be a
"commercial good," have raised our concerns about the possibility of
efforts being made to remove education from world trade rules and
the potential for development of a convention or similar instrument
to "protect" education, similar to the UNESCO convention protecting
cultural diversity. For these reasons, it is a high priority for
the USG to monitor the portal project and work, as we did with the
guidelines themselves, to shape it into an acceptable form.
OLIVER

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