Higher Education is a Fundamental Human Right


Each year on December 10, we celebrate Human Rights Day to honor the United Nations’ adoption of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This revolutionary document proclaims that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and outlines the rights that everyone is entitled to regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, national origin, or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world.


One of the core tenets of the UN Declaration is that everyone has the right to education, which “shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” The document details how education is “key to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Education promotes understanding and bridges national and cultural divides.


The principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. That is why it is critical for the world’s leaders to commit to providing affordable and accessible higher education opportunities for all. Providing such opportunities is critical in helping to address rampant poverty and foster global understanding.


Today, earning a college degree is a prerequisite to upward social mobility. However, not everyone can afford to make the substantial investment of time and money it requires. UNESCO estimates that by 2025, nearly 100 million students will be unable to find seats in existing universities. Nations around the world must develop more affordable online higher ed options similar to University of the People’s model and make them accessible to all. 


The COVID pandemic forced the majority of colleges and universities around the globe to turn to online learning. As a result, millions of people experienced the benefits of remote learning for the first time. According to the 2021 Online Education Trends Report from, which collected data from 1,800 college students, 74% called online learning better than or equal to on-campus learning and 49% said they were likely to engage in online learning even after colleges resume in-person operations. In addition, 93% students said they have had or expect to have a positive return on their investment in online education.


World leaders must continue to invest in online learning as an affordable way to provide low-cost higher education opportunities for their people. Online education, when operationalized correctly, is the most effective, scalable, and low-cost solution to increasing access to higher education. It is one of the most powerful tools we can utilize to lift people out of poverty and provide them with the tools for a better future.


Education is the key to unlocking all other human rights. Without education, there is no knowledge. Without knowledge, there is no understanding. Without understanding, there is no peace. Without peace, there is no future.


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