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Harnessing the Power of Higher Education:
New Opportunities for the G7 Process
Julia Kulik, Director of Research, G7 Research Group
January 17, 2021
On January 1, 2021, the United Kingdom officially assumed the G7 presidency after a major failure by the United States to carry out a G7 summit of any real value as chair in 2020 – despite the many challenges confronting the globe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 G7 summit in the UK will kick off a series of high-level global summits – and will do so with particularly high stakes following a year of postponements and virtual gatherings that inevitably hindered multilateral discussions. The UK G7 presidency is expected to prioritize pandemic preparedness, economic recovery, free trade, digitalization and climate change, aligning with its role as co-chair and host of the 26th Conference to the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow in November. In such a critical year, there are needs and opportunities for critical, high-capacity actors such as universities to play a more significant role in the G7 process.
Historically, the G7 leaders' summit seldom recognized the role of universities and the opportunities to work collectively with them to meet their shared goals. This is especially true when compared to references made to working with other actors and industries such as the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Before 1999, the G7 leaders recognized universities' value only as a pleasant and productive site for their summits in 1983 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States, and in 1988 at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.
In their collectively agreed summit communiqués, G8 leaders recognized higher education and universities for the first time in 1999 at the Cologne Summit, with brief references in its statement on lifelong learning that noted the need to establish linkages between universities and companies (see Appendix A). In the following years, while establishing the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the G8 put health first in acknowledging the key contribution universities could make. At Okinawa in 2000 and again at Genoa in 2001, the G8 committed to work with academic institutions to deliver on its targets to reduce the burden of these three diseases. In 2000 the G8 also hosted its first ministerial meeting on education.
At the 2006 St. Petersburg Summit there was a significant expansion in G8 attention and scope. Here, the G8 leaders acknowledged higher education institutions as producers of leading-edge technologies, which should be capitalized on. They committed to working together to establish public-private partnerships to facilitate global knowledge dissemination and translation. They promised to promote investment in knowledge, research and development (R&D) and to leverage public expenditures to attract private funding in R&D and encourage closer cooperation between universities and industry. They also promoted international academic mobility at all levels, recognizing the value of cross-cultural learning and its impact on society.
References to higher education secured one communiqué paragraph at each summit between 2007 and 2011. The focus expanded to embrace the participation of universities in larger networks dedicated to meeting commitments related to sustainability, food security, maternal, newborn and child health, and also regional security in the wake of the Arab Spring. Health remained a focus, while other foci were added. Although absent from 2012 to 2014, higher education reemerged in 2015 and appeared at each summit until 2018 in larger way. Here, higher education was linked to another G7 priority at that time: gender equality. There were no references in 2019 or 2020, despite the introduction of a new engagement group composed of university leaders, known as the University 7+ (U7+) Alliance.
G8 leaders first made a collective, public, precise, future-oriented, politically binding commitment on higher education at their Kananaskis Summit in 2002 (see Appendix B). It came as part of the summit's priority focus on education in Africa. The leaders committed to working with African partners to increase assistance to Africa's research and higher education sectors. The number of commitments made in 2006 at St. Petersburg increased and aligned with the references noted above, including one to promote innovation alliances and increase the exchange of ideas and expertise about university-based public-private partnerships in G8 members.
Commitments that either employ universities as key actors in meeting G7 goals or identifying them as their policy target then disappeared until 2017 when they reemerged as part of the G7's gender equality agenda. This included commitments to supporting universities and research institutes in the integration of the gender dimension in university courses and curricula, and to support programming that aims to remove barriers that generate discrimination against women in scientific or academic careers and decision making at universities and research institutes.
Overall, the G7's attention to or mobilization of higher education institutions in pursuit of its broader goals has been minimal and sporadic. However, closer collaboration with the sector was established under the 2019 French G7 presidency with the introduction of the U7+ Alliance, an international group of universities from G7 members and beyond, including Australia, India, Korea, and South Africa (see Appendix C). The U7+ engages both in discussion and in concrete action by making commitments to address the most pressing global challenges in a multilateral context, with a focus on the G7. The U7+ thus carves out a larger role for itself in meeting global challenges by outlining specifically how it will contribute. This includes making commitments related to enhancing sustainability education, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, exercising strong leadership, and developing and promoting guidelines about how to handle data sciences and digital innovation. The commitments from 2019 align closely with the expected priority agenda of the G7 in 2021.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital research and innovation taking place at universities across the globe. University contributions were evident very early on, including from U7+ member UCL, which, in collaboration the University College London Hospitals and Formula One, developed breathing aids to keep patients out of intensive care units – demonstrating the value of public-private partnerships. Most notable is the contribution of Oxford University to the COVID-19 vaccine race with the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has now been approved and rolled out in the UK and other countries. Oxford University has also committed to broad and equitable access to the vaccine through agreements with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, GAVI the Vaccine Alliance and the Serum Institute of India.
The challenges faced by all G7 members require collective action and contributions from a wide range of sectors and actors – including the ground-breaking research and innovation that is developed at the higher education institutions in their countries. In addition to helping meet international commitments, this research will contribute to sound, evidence-based policymaking that can help drive public support at home. Expanding engagement with the higher education sector, supported by meetings of education ministers, will help foster a mutually beneficial partnership for a common goal.
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|# dedicated documents|
Data are drawn from all official collectively agreed documents released by the G7 leaders at a summit. Charts are excluded.
"# words" is the number of subjects related to the higher education, excluding document titles and references. Words are calculated by paragraph because the paragraph is the unit of analysis.
"% total words" refers to the total number of words in all documents.
"# paragraphs" is the number of paragraphs referring to higher education. Each reference is recorded as a separate paragraph.
"% total paragraphs" refers to the total number of paragraphs of all documents.
"# documents" is the number of documents that refer to higher education and excludes dedicated documents.
"% total documents" refers to the total number of documents.
"# dedicated documents" is the number of documents that refer to higher education in the title.
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2002: Supporting African efforts to break down social, cultural and other barriers to equal access by women and girls to educational opportunities.
2004: Working with African partners to increase assistance to Africa's research and higher education capacity in enhanced-partnership countries – including by:
To promote agricultural science and research, we will enhance institutional capacity to utilize science and technology through links between universities.
Foster partnership relationships between agricultural institutes and agriculture departments in our universities and their counterparts in food-insecure countries, including by linking national programs into sub-regional and regional networks.
2005: Helping develop skilled professionals for Africa's private and public sectors, through supporting networks of excellence between Africans' and other countries' institutions of higher education and centres of excellence in science and technology institutions. In this respect, we look forward to the outcome of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society taking place in November in Tunis.
2006: encourage educational policies and investment that foster diverse, efficient, sustainable, and high quality higher education institutions
2006: In addition, we will encourage closer cooperation between universities and industry. These actions will generate innovation that improves the lives of our people, the prosperity of our nations and the well-being of the global community.
2006: Our governments will cooperate with the private sector in the development of innovative, high quality higher education and research and development systems.
2006: Our governments will promote dialogue and synergies with business, higher education and labour to develop sound higher education and human resources policies.
2006: We will identify points of contact in our countries that can facilitate the exchange of ideas and expertise, while recognizing that private sector involvement in the development of these partnerships is one of the main keys to achieving an effective linkage between higher education and the needs of the global innovation society.
2006: We will enhance existing programs of exchange and promote the development of linguistic and cross cultural skills. The Bologna Process aimed at creating the European higher education area is an example of one such program.
2006: We will encourage the development of education policies aimed at fostering a system of accessible, diverse, sustainable, and high-quality higher education institutions, both university and non university including research institutions, community colleges, technical schools, public and private sector vocational training institutes, with the ability to respond to new demands.
2006: We shall promote cooperation with the private sector to foster diverse, efficient, sustainable higher education institutions.
2008: We promote Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) by supporting the UNESCO and other organizations in the field of ESD and through knowledge networks among relevant institutions including universities to encourage actions by the public leading to a more sustainable and low carbon society.
2011: [We will] foster greater educational [linkages between our universities and those in the MENA region]
2011: [We will foster greater] research linkages between our universities and those in the MENA region.
2017: Consider developing, funding and implementing specific programs that target universities and research institutes aimed at removing barriers that generate discrimination against women in scientific or academic careers and decision-making.
2017: Supporting universities and research institutes, as appropriate, in the integration of the gender dimension in university courses and curricula, as well as in research and innovation contents.
2017: Strengthen the collaboration between universities, research institutes and the private sector.
2017: Promote curricula training on gender equality for educational and school staff and students on both gender norms and stereotypes as well as on preventing violence against women and girls in schools at all levels and higher education by 2022.
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 Russia participated as a full member of the G8 from 1998 to 2013.
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