The Mumbai Statement

The working group on Adult Education and Universities was set up at the Fifth UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V) held in Hamburg in July 1997. In April 1998, a follow-up meeting was held in Mumbai, India, to prepare for the “World Conference on Higher Education in the 21st  Century”. The following statement was drawn up in reference to the “Hamburg Declaration” and the “Agenda for the Future”. Another follow-up meeting will be held from 27 to 29 March 2001 in Cape Town, South Africa: “Globalisation and Higher Education. Views from the South. An International Conference”. It will be hosted by the Education Policy Unit of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and the Society for Research into Higher Education based in the United Kingdom. For information contact  and The conference website is

The Mumbai Statement on Lifelong Learning, Active Citizenship and the Reform of Higher Education

We, from all regions of the world, university-based adult educators, scholars and other specialists in the field of lifelong learning together with representatives of non-governmental organizations having begun working at the UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education in Hamburg, Germany, July 14-18, 1997, and now meeting at the Department of Adult and Continuing Education and Extension of the University of Mumbai in Mumbai, India, April 21-23, 1998 in order to prepare for the World Conference on Higher Education: Higher Education in the 21st Century in Paris, in October of 1998,

Recalling the words of the Hamburg Declaration of July, 1997 of the UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education,

Adult education thus becomes more than a right; it is a key to the twenty-first century. It is both a consequence of active citizenship and a condition for full participation in society. It is a powerful concept for fostering ecologically sustainable development, for promoting democracy, justice, gender equity, and scientific, social and economic development, and for building a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue and a culture of peace based on justice. Adult learning can shape the identity and give meaning to life. Learning throughout life implies rethinking of content to reflect such factors as age, gender equality, disability, language, culture and economic disparities.

Taking into account point 19 in the Agenda for the Future adopted in the same UNESCO Conference,
We commit ourselves to:
Opening schools, colleges and universities to adult learners:
a) by requiring institutions of formal education from primary level onwards to be prepared to open their doors to adult learners, both women and men, adapting their programmes and learning conditions to meet their needs;
b) by developing coherent mechanisms to recognize the outcomes of learning undertaken in different contexts, and to ensure that credit is transferable within and between institutions, sectors and states;
c) by establishing joint university/community research and training partnerships, and by bringing the services of universities to outside groups;
d) by carrying out interdisciplinary research in all aspects of adult education and learning with the participation of adult learners themselves;
e) by creating opportunities for adult learning in flexible, open and creative ways, taking into account the specificities of women’s and men’s lives;
f) by providing systematic continuing education for adult educators;
g) by calling upon the World Conference on Higher Education (Paris, 1998) to promote the transformation of post-secondary institutions into lifelong learning institutions, and to define the role of universities accordingly;

Bearing in mind the words of Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO in announcing the aim of the World Conference on Higher Education as, in part, to

...lay down fundamental principles for the in-depth reform of higher education systems throughout the world;

And Article XXIII of the Policy Paper of the World Conference of Higher Education, that

Achieving basic education for all and enhancement of opportunities for lifelong learning constitutes UNESCO’s priority in the field of education

Hereby present the following statement:

  1. Profound changes are taking place both locally and globally. They can be seen in the globalisation of economic systems, in the rapid development of science and technology, in the age structure of our societies and in the emergence of information and knowledge-based societies. The world also faces deepening levels of unemployment, patterns of uneven development, a growing gap between the richest and poorest countries, a global ecological crisis, and tensions between social groups based on culture, ethnicity, gender roles, religion and income. These trends are reflected in universities and other institutions of higher education, which are struggling to cope with new opportunities and demands, often with declining resources at their disposal. These complex contexts create the stage where higher education institutions are being required to play new roles in the perspective of lifelong learning. The imperatives of education throughout life are driven by the diverse demands of the global economy and those of equitable and sustainable societies. For the majority to benefit, we recognise the interrelatedness of the economic, the social, the political and the ecological.
  2. Lifelong learning has become a key concept in the thinking about education and training worldwide. While we recognise that lifelong learning is a natural part of the lives of all women and men throughout the world and that it happens through many other types of institutions such as the workplace, community-based locations, libraries, trade unions and other social movements, the focus of our statement is on the understanding of lifelong learning and its implications for institutions of higher education. Lifelong learning can be based on both instrumental values such as the need to maintain professional currency and to have an internationally competitive workforce, and on more liberal and humane considerations such as the enrichment of society and people’s fulfilment as individual citizens.
  3. We see a key purpose of lifelong learning as democratic citizenship, recognising that democratic citizenship depends on such factors as effective economic development, attention to the demands of the least powerful in our societies, and on the impact of industrial processes on the caring capacity of our common home, the planet. The notion of citizenship is important in terms of connecting individuals and groups to the structures of social, political and economic activity in both local and global contexts. Democratic citizenship highlights the importance of women and men as agents of history in all aspects of their lives: The act of learning, lying as it does at the heart of all educational activity, changes human beings from objects at the mercy of events to subjects who create their own history (quoted from the Declaration of the Fourth UNESCO Conference on Adult Education, Paris, 1985).
  4. Conceptually, lifelong learning most distinctively draws our attention to the provision of learning throughout the lives of women and men and to the development of lifelong learning competencies for everyone. As an educational practice, lifelong learning also recognizes diversity and differences among people as potentially productive components of the teaching and learning processes. Lifelong learning also supports the growing trend towards cross-disciplinary research, teaching and learning. And when we focus on the word ‘life’ within the concept of lifelong learning, we are drawn towards understanding learning as part of and related to the full ecological dimensions of our existence.
  5. Lifelong learning is about the interaction between learners, educators and diverse knowledges. The long tradition in adult education of supporting learning opportunities for excluded groups of women and men in our societies draws attention to the rich and different ways of knowing and representing knowledge within our societies. As the construction, understanding and sharing of knowledge is the most fundamental purpose of universities and other institutions of higher education, so a full understanding of lifelong learning calls on us to examine many of our assumptions about what is taught and why.
  6. While not the only such institutions, institutions of higher education have a special responsibility and competency for the production and dissemination of knowledge. Taking the ideals of learning throughout life seriously has broad implications for our understanding of what knowledge is, what teaching is, what research is and what community engagement is. It has been sometimes suggested that dominant bodies of knowledge within our institutions of higher education represent a partial and, in an historical sense, a ‘colonized’ body of knowledge. Lifelong learning supports the de-colonization of the mind by encouraging the re-examination of relationships between scientific, often understood as ‘official’ knowledge, and the specific diverse knowledges of local communities, cultures and contexts. Special attention needs to be given to supporting indigenous forms of knowledge and ways of knowing as part of the original and ancient intellectual heritage of our world.
  7. Lifelong learning has profound implications for the academic, administrative, community partnership and financial aspects of higher education. Some of the principles of lifelong learning that will influence institutional transformation include the acknowledgment of the lived experiences of all learners, women and men, respect for difference and diversity, flexibility of provision recognizing the complex nature of adults’ lives, sensitivity to both cognitive and affective outcomes, awareness that knowledge exists in all parts of societies and among all women and men of our world and that such knowledge is to be shared in a spirit of mutual respect.
  8. Changes and adjustments to academic life implied within lifelong learning include such practices as flexible and responsive systems of access, delivery, curricula and accreditation which take adult learners’ backgrounds, daily schedules, prior learning and life contexts into account. Counselling and guidance, for instance, may need to be available at later hours or in community-based settings for ease of access. The education of university-level professionals needs to be rethought, taking into account initial university education and continuing learning throughout life. Importantly, the faculty and administrative staff of institutions of higher education need support and personal development opportunities in the light of changes due to the implementation of lifelong learning.
  9. The transformation to genuine lifelong learning institutions requires a holistic approach which a) supports the institution becoming a lifelong learning community itself; b) integrates academic, financial and administrative elements; c) provides structures which are responsible for organizational, staff, student and curriculum development and community engagement; and d) aligns the various supportive structures such as academic information systems, library provision and learning technologies to the new mission of universities in learning societies.
  10. Broader forms of community engagement or partnerships with both the world of work and with diverse groups of new learners will be important. Community service is called for, in which students are encouraged to participate in the provision of learning opportunities for those who have not had access to higher education in the past. Structures which allow institutions of higher education on the research and teaching side to make academic knowledge and research expertise available to community-based groupings such as women’s organizations, social movement organizations or trade unions bear special consideration.
  11. It is of the utmost importance to draw to the attention of governments, businesses, charitable foundations and others that the transformation of our institutions of higher education into genuine lifelong learning organizations requires both financial and political support. To carry out the more complex administrative, academic, and community outreach tasks which are needed, increased financial support rather than budget cuts are required. We need the political will at national and international levels to help all our institutions of higher education support the learning of all women and men at all ages in all parts of the world.

We call upon

  1. The delegates of the World Conference of Higher Education to incorporate both the spirit and the contents of this statement in the final documents of the conference and to take into account the learning aspirations of the adult population;
  2. Institutions of higher education to be transformed into institutions of lifelong learning both within themselves and as they relate to the wider society;
  3. Institutions of higher education to strengthen their capacities in the joint creation of knowledge, research, teaching and learning with diverse communities of women and men of all ages;
  4. Institutions of higher education to become full and responsible partners and share their distinct and substantial competencies in this area with adult education communities, non-governmental organizations, public and private bodies, UNESCO and other intergovernmental organizations in the full implementation of lifelong learning throughout the world.
  5. UNESCO, all inter-governmental bodies, governments and international funding agencies to strengthen institutions of higher education within the framework of lifelong learning in the least developed countries;
  6. UNESCO, all inter-governmental bodies, governments and international funding agencies, as a necessary measure to ensure the global adoption of lifelong learning, to strengthen structures of communication among adult and lifelong educators and all others dedicated to the full implementation of lifelong learning in higher education throughout our world.


Dr Kamalini Bhansali, Member UGC Standing Committee for Adult and Continuing Education & Extension, Mumbai, India
Hashim Abuzeid Elsafi, Sudanese Adult Education Association, Khartoum, SUDAN
Dr Ina Grieb, Vice President, University of Oldenburg, Germany
Dr Budd Hall, Chair, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, OISE/UT, Toronto, Canada
Dr Claudia Harvey, UNESCO Representative (Northern) & Education Adviser for the Caribbean
Dr Peter Jarvis, Department of Educational Studies, Post Graduate Centre, University of Surrey, UK
Werner Mauch, Research Specialist, UNESCO Institute for Education
Dr Renuka Narang, Director, Department of Adult and Continuing Education & Extension, Mumbai, India
Jennifer Newman, Faculty of Education, University of Technology, Sidney, Australia
Dr Daphne Ntiri, Wayne State University, College of Life Long Learning, USA
Prof. Paolo Orefice, Chair of Adult Education, University of Florence, Italy
Dr Gita Shah, Head, Department of Extra Mural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Science, Deonar, Mumbai, India
Sue Shore, Director, Adult Literacy Research Network, Faculty of Education, University of South Australia, Australia
Dr Shirley Walters, CACE, University of the Western Cape, Republic of South Africa
Dr Shizheng Wang, President, Shanghai Second Polytechnic University, Shanghai, China

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.