Excellencies, Colleagues, Dear friends,
I am inspired and encouraged to see so many participants gather virtually today from around the world to discuss higher education for the future we want.
We meet here today in the midst of a brutal pandemic.
One which is upending lives and livelihoods- including for our young people.
School closures to stop the spread of COVID-19 have affected over 90% of the world’s student population.
That is 1.6 billion children and youth.
And the pandemic has underscored the need to overcome the “digital divide.”
Even though remote learning is provided to many students as an alternative, children and youth in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities often do not enjoy the same access. And the situation is often acutely felt by young women.
This is something we must change if we are to achieve an equitable future for all.
Higher education is fundamental to advancing progress on all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
So, I am pleased that today’s event will enable us to hear your ideas on how we can: regenerate, renew, and revitalise, higher education- to support sustainable development and a green recovery.
We must put equity and inclusion at the heart of our efforts. And ensure they are always anchored in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Quality education has a catalytic impact on eradicating poverty, reducing inequalities, improving health, driving economic growth, and achieving gender equality.
This is why in the sustainable development goals we all promised to ensure equal access to education for all women and men by 2030.
This includes higher education.
Yet, higher education is still hard to access - and to complete - for students from marginalised groups, including indigenous people, ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities.
And, in low-income countries, women still lag behind men in accessing higher education.
We must do more to close the gender gap and ensure that women can benefit from, higher education on equal terms.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately likely to exacerbate these inequalities.
The principle of inclusion must be at the forefront if we are to deliver on our promise of leaving no one behind.
Governments must address the concerns and interests of students from marginalised groups, to ensure that the right to education, and equal participation in society, is realised for all.
Targeted measures, including scholarships, are critical in these efforts.
Allow me to conclude by thanking all here today for taking this innovative partnership forward.
I am encouraged by your tireless engagement to inspire current and future generations of creative thinkers to advance sustainable development.
The right to education is most at risk during emergencies, but it is also the exact time when it is needed the most.
Education is lifesaving. Not only does it provide safety and protection, it also instils hope for a brighter future.
After all, education is not only a human right — it is essential to bringing dreams to life, and to realising the future we want for all.