Abstract This paper examines the unresolved question of higher education and development. How does, and how should, higher education (HE) relate to development? Much work on education and development concerns the nature and practice of education in developing countries (Harber 2014), but the connections to HE, to developed countries and to development itself are unclear (Oketch et al 2014). The broader context is of globalizing HE, the dissolution of easy distinctions between developing and developed, and the increasing importance of internationalization. Despite the blurring of the developing/developed distinction, development itself has not disappeared as a cooperative, conative project. From the development perspective, the global millennial consensus (MDGs 2000-2015 and Education for All) set an agenda for expanding basic education with gender equity, but accorded a low priority and limited relevance to higher education. The post MDG debates have seen concerted attempts to put HE back on the development agenda and to re-appraise its contribution to development. A post-2015 agenda for HE must align contested globalization(s) of its work and purposes with the challenge of sustainable human development. Such an alignment requires the articulation of countervailing cooperative rationales as alternatives to the dominant Globally Structured Agenda for Education (Dale 2000). The countervailing rationale for HE and development could have three components: i) an economic rationale of public goods, ii) a political rationale of rights with solidarity (linking accountability to meaningful participation and social benefit), and iii) a cultural rationale encompassing educational and ethical norms and values. The paper concludes with a proposal to better understand and integrate the work practices (scholarships) of higher education, comprising disciplinary teaching and professional education, interdisciplinary research and engagement. The trans-disciplinary framework of human rights offers one ethical and practical grounding for a revitalized, capable HE with responsibility towards the shared global challenge of sustainable human development.