Tertiary education institutions play an important role in training future cultural practitioners,artists, curators, policy-makers, and leaders to work in the field of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). Currently, the teaching of ICH is highly dispersed throughout different disciplines (heritage studies, anthropology, music, architecture, literature, et cetera). However, academic programmes centred on ICH remain at the margins of the academe. At the 12th Session of the
Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Jeju, Republic of Korea in December 2017, a roundtable discussion on the integration of ICH in university programmes emphasised the need to show to young people how their connection to ICH manifests in the everydayness of their lives and how they can play a key role in ICH transmission. In the context of developing countries, the discussion heard the need to show a strong link between ICH and development. Though these needs are timeless, persistent across geographies, there are continuous efforts that track the achievement of these needs in integrating ICH into higher education. Significantly, the discussion pointed out a fundamental area in this agenda: the lack of cooperation and networking among universities, research institutes, and degree-conferring colleges.
All over the world, UNESCO and its partners have carried out initiatives to strengthen the cooperation and networking among higher education institutions, with a view to maximize their potentials in contributing to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. In Latin America, the UNESCO Office in Montevideo held a regional meeting on cooperation mechanisms in integrating ICH into higher education in 2017, which was participated by 40 representatives from 36 universities based in 9 countries across the region. The meeting promoted exchange and reflection on ICH and higher education, focusing on tertiary-level cultural management programmes.
Meanwhile, to ensure the possibility of cooperation and networking amongst relevant higher education institutions in the Asia-Pacific region, ICHCAP and UNESCO Bangkok Office coorganised the First Meeting for Asia-Pacific Tertiary Education Network for ICH Safeguarding in July 2018, in which 19 universities and educational institutions from 11 countries arrived at a consensus to establish a higher education network for ICH safeguarding. Later that year, the siaPacific Education Network for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (APHEN-ICH) was officially formed, beginning with 15 member institutions. These orchestrated efforts stemmed out from a survey co-conducted by ICHCAP and UNESCO Bangkok Office in 2017, which reaffirmed the interest of higher education institutions to work together to advance their teaching, research, and community services mandates in the fields of intangible cultural heritage and its
A similar direction was journeyed in Europe when the European Network on Cultural Management and Policy (ENCATC) carried out an extensive mapping of higher education programmes throughout the continent, identifying a total of 146 programmes at all levels containing ICH subjects. This 2017 UNESCO-ENCATC project dubbed as “Learning on intangible heritage: building teachers’ capacity for a sustainable future” pushed recommendations for the further insertion of ICH in higher education curricula, which have to do with sharing terminologies and rationales, envisaging the needs of the job market, sharing knowledge and practices, as well as cross-disciplinary pollination and cross-assessment of relevant policies.
In 2018, UNESCO also commissioned a survey (SAU-ICH Survey) on ICH in African universities.Conducted for over two months, the survey found that only one academic programme solely focused on ICH was offered in an African country (Zambia since 2019) while multiple programmes related to ICH were available across the region. The survey etched out the necessity for national and international cooperation in the agenda of bringing ICH in higher education, with most of its recommendations anchored on the long-term benefits of having a network with an online platform to further promote and build capacity around the safeguarding of ICH in Africa.
It is crucial to take note that these germinal efforts around the world collectively call for an amplified cooperation and networking among higher education institutions for ICH safeguarding. This is chiefly because the ways in which ICH is integrated in university programs is not a singleinstitution problem, but importantly a transnational issue reaching a global scale as ICH found anywhere in the world belongs to the entire humanity. It was evidenced that the sharing of experiences and lessons learned, across the national borders and across the regions, can contribute to strengthening the practices at the individual institutional level. However, building a higher education network and an effective cooperation mechanism are complex tasks situated within diverse contexts which may pose technical difficulties and resource deficiency. For example, the exponential growth of the use of new technologies has had great implications to how people experience heritage and consequently engender new modalities of connectivity. In the case of younger generations, their first experience of cultural heritage is often through a digital surrogate that shapes their understanding (Economou, 2015: 215). The changing configurations of communication and the creation of electronic data-driven emergent publics at high speed indubitably direct us to questions of building higher education networks for ICH safeguarding as a form of stable gathering positioned within societal evolutions such as cosmopolitanism, urbanisation, as well as the authority of political ideologies over various forms of agenda-driven assemblages.
The third session of the ICH Webinar Series attempts to have a deeper engagement with ideas of building cooperation and networking among higher education institutions for ICH safeguarding. Primarily, this session aims to examine the state of networking activities in different regions around the world, how networks were formed, how they operate and contribute to research and teaching about ICH, its safeguarding and transmission. Furthermore, the session looks into what
it means for teachers, researchers, and students to be in such kind of network, and how the network can help to advance their intellectual inquiry and exchanges, and community service, amongst others. Finally, the session intends to address questions of expandability of networks, with emphasis on the possibility of inter-regional cooperation through linkages among higher education institutions, national/international/regional competent bodies, and other relevant groups.