A Fullness To Bring Out: On ethics-based higher education for advancing inclusion, equity, and diversity

Photo by Alvin Matthews on Unsplash

“You have a fullness you need to bring out. It’s not an emptiness you need to cover up with things.” – Ayi Kwei Armah, Fragments

Education means overcoming resistance. As provocative as this statement may sound, it leads us into the heart of what is at stake in the current climate of higher education. The resistance all educators face is a defiance tied with all genuine transformation experiences. Letting go of acquired patterns of thinking and seeing the world differently, opening oneself to the possibility of embracing a new path. When embarked on the Building New Bridges Together conference journey in June 2020, the intention was to create a space of conversation on higher education as seen through the lens of ethics. At the time, we shared the hopes of so many that we would be able to traverse the global pandemic relatively swiftly, and hence our emphasis was on strengthening ethics in higher education after COVID-19.

Together with other actors in the academic world, we grew into the realisation that we would have to learn to live with a kind of ‘new normalcy’: higher education institutions all over the world were confronted with a situation of disruption. Face-to-face instruction had to be re-organised within a short time span to cater to the educational needs of a generation of learners exposed to an unprecedented event of global scale unfolding before their eyes. The pandemic literally forced them, and societies as a whole, into confinement, as well as prompting various degrees of restriction on mobility and other fundamental rights, such as the right to congregate and enjoy the freedom to carry out recreational activities. All these restrictions have had and continue to have a significant bearing on the way societies deal with the health crisis and re-organise the normative consensus. In recent months we may have become even more acutely aware of the central role played by higher education – and education in general – in the way societies understand themselves and citizens articulate among themselves how they want to live together. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic was also a wake-up call. We can no longer afford to think of any societal issue in isolation.

Education becomes a kind of prismatic field for the future of humankind. We are also becoming increasingly cognizant of the fact that values are not a luxurious add-on but need to be an integral part of education from the outset. Instilling values and principles in young people constitutes a true and lasting investment in the future generation of change-makers: those who will drive cross-cultural understanding, regenerative energy consumption and sustainable entrepreneurship over and against the destructive trends of populism, discrimination, racism and environmental devastation. In this context, an example comes to mind of the team of young Kenyan ethics students participating in’s hackathon from 9 to 10 November 2021 on the theme of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity in Higher Education – For the World the World We Want to Shape. For these young people, the universal values on which higher education institutions are built and to which all adhere by way of an intentional learning process, mentoring and role-modelling, constitute essential building blocks for their implementation in communal life. “We are working for a peaceful society, in which everyone is invited”, concluded Aisha, for whom higher education is clearly the preparation for a consciously led, responsible and considerate life with and for others.

Quality education as a right for all should therefore not only be seen as a programmatic item on the international agenda. Inclusion, equity and diversity are not just boxes to tick on a social-political checklist whose implementation can be relegated to specialised institutions. Rather, they are part of a holistic and relational project for higher education, preparing an emerging generation for their roles as responsible citizens in their own contexts, able to read and interpret them for themselves and others, and to build meaningful bridges of understanding between people in a world heavily marked by disparities.

It may well be that we have understood the role of higher education too narrowly as primarily providing the foundations for future employability. With the rapid changes in the labour market and new professional fields and demands, it has already become evident that classical forms of face-to-face higher education must be further developed in parallel with lifelong learning programmes to address the needs of ever novel professional competencies. However, it is not only about a skills-based education, but a whole-person education that aims to ensure that learners are groomed for the thorough and critical investigation of the practices and structures in their environments so that societal participation and the attainment of fulfilled lives becomes possible for all, and especially those frequently excluded from the benefits of education.

In this sense, higher education and all those dedicated to it are called to discover inclusion, equity and diversity as much more than caring for the needs of underrepresented groups, but as the seedbed for prospering societies. Examples of innovative higher education projects, ranging from migrant and refugee online learning programmes to universities proposing co-educational curricula for differently challenged people, showcase encouraging paths to pursue. In fact, they may pave the way for a transformation from competition over the adequate formats and media of higher education to the creation of future-oriented alliances for a holistic and ethically grounded higher education that unfolds the vision – through adequate pedagogies as well as meaningful and applicable technological inventions – as Ayi Kwei Armah so poignantly expresses, to bring out the fullness of humanity. is keen on building such alliances for values-driven higher education and invites its stakeholder community and all educational actors sharing this interest to join its international conference day. Register here for the BNBT Conference on 10 December 2021.


Amélé Ekué, 
Academic Dean 

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