This article examines what it means to teach and research human rights and development now, within the context of public higher education (HE), as significant internal and external challenges face ‘human rights’ and ‘development’ as subjects in themselves. ‘Development’ has arguably been in crisis for decades, or has at least failed to escape from a neoliberal ‘twilight zone’, despite the emergence of critical, humanistic and rights-focused alternatives. Significant reversals have occurred for human development and human rights in recent times, as political regimes have shifted rightwards and public and political discourse have become more polarised and extreme. Official support and cooperation for human rights and development have stagnated or declined, while practice has gravitated towards humanitarian and economic agendas. Persistent conflicts are contributing to the largest crisis of displaced people in history, inevitably pushing security and humanitarian needs to the fore. The climate for human rights, already compromised by the ‘war on terror’, has deteriorated noticeably. Even the minimum ‘floor’ of humanitarian norms has been repeatedly shattered, making a progressive expansion of human rights seem unlikely and unattainable. Given this context of antagonism and retrogression, this article examines what the fundamental stakes are to educate for human rights and development. Noting how higher education’s own basic stakes have changed under neoliberalism, it engages the challenge to ‘decolonise’ higher education, while revisiting fundamental commitments to the ‘things’ involved in educating for human rights and development. It considers arguments for higher education curriculum in the sociology of development and human rights as something. While there are no definitive answers, decolonial curriculum and emancipatory teaching can help to sustain, rekindle, engage and nourish these conative fields, and push back against de-democratising and instrumental tendencies.