Global Higher Education and Research

The WUN Global Challenge in Higher Education and Research (GHEAR) addresses the sources, mechanisms, and social structures that give rise to today's higher education challenges, and works collaboratively across the network to propose reform policies for international research and education.

Objectives and rationale

GHEAR provides a future-oriented global network that focuses on addressing the most urgent challenges related to improving the value of higher education to individuals, communities, nations, and the world – all in the context of a global commitment to sustainable development.

GHEAR is guided by a vision of inclusive universities that, by acting as both a fulcrum and a catalyst for change, are applying their scholarly expertise and actively steering the engagement of higher education with the 21st century challenges.

GHEAR seeks to leverage the expertise across the WUN network in its ambition to:

  • promote through research and scholarship the ongoing development of equitable, contextually relevant, high quality and accessible higher education throughout the world; and
  • investigate and learn about the interactions among the drivers, policies, institutional infrastructure, human capacities, resources, and outcomes that are associated with this overall aim.

GHEAR is aligned with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 in its commitment to leaving none behind. SDG 4 - Quality Education - Ensure Inclusive and Quality Education for All and Promote Lifelong Learning - identifies higher education as a key contributor to educational progress at all levels; and GHEAR should also contribute insights related to SDG 10 Reducing Inequalities.


GHEAR is focusing on three thematic directions around:

  1. The nature of the higher education curriculum for the 21st century.
  2. The legitimacy and authority of the university in a changing world.
  3. Global and local mobilities and higher education.


Priorities for the Programmatic Research Agenda are:

1. The role of research-based HE institutions of the future

To what extent should HE institutions be shaped by society and to what extent should they be shaping society? To what extent should HE institutions be shaped by students and to what extent should they be shaping students of the future?

2. The impact of mobilities on HE

Mobilities understood in a very wide sense, to include:

  • Mobilities of people, ideas, programmes, knowledges
  • Inbound and outbound mobility
  • Physical and digital
  • Voluntary and forced.

Plan of Action

The aim of the group is to facilitate collaborative partnerships involving WUN experts as the basis for more intentionally developing specific WUN-supported research projects that produce high impact scholarship (e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles, externally commissioned papers and briefs, externally sponsored research projects). Following the finalisation of the Programmatic Research Agenda, the Steering Group will cultivate targeted proposals for the RDF. The GHEAR will:

  • emphasize research projects that cultivate scholarly partnerships among WUN experts along with scholars and institutions throughout much of the ‘global south’ to promote the GHEAR vision, and the directions set out above;
  • further align GHEAR research efforts and projects in ways that a) contribute to achievement of SDG4 and SDG 10; and b) leverage the potential of higher education to support achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals; and
  • identify an additional GHEAR priority research area that reflects the global challenges framed in the SDGs and can be submitted for significant external funding each year, and support a working group process and meeting to catalyse this effort. 

Steering Group

The GHEAR Global Challenge Steering Group is made up of experts in the field from across the network. The Steering Group is responsible for guiding the development, focus and research portfolio of the global challenge. 

Global Challenge Chair: Professor Caroline Dyer, Professor of Education and International Development, The University of Leeds; email:

For more information, contact lead coordinator Ms Anna Lewandowska; email: