As the Center for Universal Education (CUE) celebrates its 20-year anniversary, the center is excited to launch its new 10-year strategy focused on systems transformation for holistic education, locally defined priorities, and collaboration to bring research to practice across education ecosystems.

CUE is fortunate to have a diversity of mission-aligned funders, including the LEGO Foundation, which recently awarded CUE a $24 million grant over approximately four and a half years. A portion of this catalytic funding will enable CUE to increase and deepen its partnerships to further build a collaborative research-to-practice network with actors across the education policy ecosystems, with a particular focus on civil society organizations (CSOs), as part of its new strategy.

Below are answers to questions that colleagues, partners, and members of the public may have as CUE launches its new vision with support from a range of stakeholders including the new grant from the LEGO Foundation. We expect more questions to emerge and welcome further feedback and discussion. Please share your thoughts via [email protected].

1. What are CUE’s research priorities and strategic vision for the next 10 years?

Over the course of the next decade, CUE will evolve its work to focus on a shared goal of transforming education systems through a more intentional process of co-creation with local partners, particularly in the Global South.

This focus is informed by the critical need to bring contextually relevant experience and understanding into underserved education communities, and CUE’s evaluation of its strengths and reflections on effective strategies to maximize impact. Going forward, CUE plans to build on its existing networks of partners around the world and deepen engagement with them. An important part of this partnership is the learning opportunity for CUE as we cultivate long-lasting collaboration and identify—with our partners—new, creative, and contextualized ways to co-design research priorities and bring the most important findings from local communities to international policy conversations.

Informed by years of ongoing research and rich insights developed with a diversity of local partners, CUE intends to collaborate with others to ask and answer critical questions in four central areas:

    • Priorities and agendas that are defined locally: Where do local communities want to go, and what is needed to get there?
    • Collaboration and alignment: How can we work together with our network partners to co-create, co-design, and co-investigate to bring the most impactful findings from a diversity of local communities to international policy conversations?
    • Breadth of skills: How can we respond effectively and equitably to young people’s diverse and holistic learning needs, especially considering the significant inequalities that persist—and that were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic—in education systems around the world?
    • Systems transformation: How do we bring together the full ecosystem of education actors—from policymakers, researchers, and civil society organizations to educators, practitioners, and young people and their families—to develop shared purpose and foster understanding and leadership about systemic education change?

2. What part(s) of CUE’s strategic vision does LEGO Foundation funding support?

The LEGO Foundation funding will help catalyze several key elements of CUE’s new strategy, including:

Pillar 1 | Knowing-Doing Network Leadership Coalition (KDNLC). This pillar of the grant focuses on partnering with 10 CSOs from across the globe that will work together to guide the establishment of the Knowing-Doing Network, engage in collaborative inquiry around how to inform effective policies and practices for systems transformation in local and global contexts, and inform the development of communication and engagement strategies. The KDNLC will be a critical learning partner in the evolution of CUE’s work with the broader network (see Pillar 2) in the coming years, but it will not be the only entry point for new partners to engage with CUE on its work.

Over one-third of the total project funds will be dedicated to the work of and with the Leadership Coalition. This includes approximately $4 million in subgrants to KDNLC partner organizations (approximately $400,000 directly to each of up to 10 organizations over the course of four years), as well as additional support for organizations’ international travel, convenings, collaborative research, and publications.

Learn more about the KDNLC and how to get involved.

Pillar 2 | Research on Systems Transformation (Knowing-Doing Network). This pillar of the grant supports CUE’s work with a wide array of partners and stakeholders (not just CSOs) in developing evidence and tools to advance system transformation in several key domains, such as early childhood education and innovative pedagogy. It also, through the engagement with the coalition, brings together these different networks to share and cross-fertilize approaches into one Knowing-Doing Network. Approximately half of the grant funds support the work in this pillar from research to tool development to peer learning, and more. Funding to external collaborators who are not Leadership Coalition members is also included in this work.

Pillar 3 | Global Dialogue. This pillar of the grant supports the Leadership Coalition, Knowing-Doing Network partners, and CUE to share what they are learning at the global level. The remainder of the grant funds support this work of informing the global education debate.

Learn more about the Center for Universal Education.

3. Are there opportunities for other partners and funders to be involved in CUE’s strategy?

Yes! CUE continues to work with a range of funders and partners across our Center. CUE envisions growing these activities over time by bringing in more partners, deepening our work, and expanding our reach and impact.

CUE remains committed to Brookings’s mission of developing independent, non-partisan analysis and recommendations that reflect objective and rigorous scholarship

4. Why is CUE at Brookings well suited for helping advance the systems transformation agenda in communities around the world, and what is our approach?

Over the course of the last century, Brookings has continued to respond to the needs of the times. And throughout CUE’s 20-year history, it too has evolved its approach. Initially CUE’s focus was on building the education ecosystem at the global level and advancing the dialogue to focus on access to school alongside quality learning. With the establishment of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, CUE shifted its focus to working with partners in communities around the world on building evidence and tools to help implement the goals. Today, CUE’s broad network includes approximately 80 people across more than 25 countries, and we work with over 100 partners across the full education ecosystem in 40 countries.

As we reflected on where we have been and where we want to go—given our 20th anniversary—we asked our partners for feedback on what we should do differently. Our partners have told us they want more intentional collaboration, not just on specific projects, but across all of CUE’s agenda. We recognize that evolving how we work to embrace this form of co-creation requires examining how we work, acknowledging power dynamics, and having a learning orientation so that we get feedback and grow as a Center along the way. We also take seriously the results of our recent study, which found that those inside education systems—students, educators, CSOs, and in some cases policymakers—want a greater voice in determining the purpose of education systems and in informing the follow-on design and implementation processes. Our new strategy takes these important insights into account.

5. What does “systems transformation” mean?

When CUE refers to “education systems transformation,” the center means that education should help prepare young people to be active global citizens with a wide range of competencies and mindsets. Many education systems are laser-focused on foundational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, particularly considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent increases in inequality in education access, participation, and learning. CUE strongly believes that education systems need to transform—continuing to develop academic skillsets—but also expanding their goals so that students can develop broader competencies to solve complex problems and thrive in a rapidly changing world. 

For more in-depth analysis on this topic, read: “Transforming education systems: Why, what, and how.”

6. What does “breadth of skills” mean?

“Breadth of skills” refers to the full range of academic and socio-emotional skills students need to thrive—from foundational skills such as math, literacy, and writing to creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. A breadth of skills approach is essential to navigating, adapting, and thriving in today’s rapidly changing world. 

For a deeper dive on this topic, see: “Visualizing the breadth of skills movement across education systems” and its accompanying interactive. 

7. Is CUE open to feedback as it embarks on its new strategy?

Yes! As a center focused on education and systems transformation, we are committed to evolving and developing through and with our partners. CUE warmly welcomes feedback and suggestions as the work unfolds. CUE plans to make space for on-going feedback from its many partners and encourages anyone to share thoughts, concerns, and suggestions through: [email protected]. As needed, we will update this FAQ to reflect the on-going questions and feedback.