GLOBAL: UN forges world partnership with universities

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week inaugurated the new United Nations Academic Impact, UNAI, which seeks to generate ideas in partnership with higher education institutions that can help solve global problems.

"By formalising our relationship today, we can magnify the already great impact the academic community is having," Ban told more than 300 representatives from academic institutions gathered in New York for the launch of UNAI on 18 November.

The launch was followed by a two-day conference at which UN officials and academics discussed how to put the new partnership into practice.

UNAI participants will commit themselves to 10 principles derived from the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development goals. Each of more than 500 member institutions from over 90 countries will agree to support at least one project or activity each year that furthers the realisation of these principles.

"All of your countries already contribute to United Nations work by donating peacekeepers, supporting development and providing the political backing we need to succeed. In addition to resources, in addition to personnel, we need ideas," Ban said.

"Ideas bring the United Nations to life. A single idea can generate a breakthrough that saves millions of lives. A new technology can spare whole populations from hardship. Even a theory can unlock action for peace."

The UN chief stressed the important role that academics have played in international affairs and solving global problems, and underlined that a closer partnership could have an even greater impact in future.

"The academic world has supported our work since the founding of the United Nations," he said, and added: "Deans of universities have been top advisers to me and my predecessors. My own deputy secretary general was not only her country's foreign minister, but also a professor at the University of Tanzania," he said, referring to Asha-Rose Migiro.

"Scholarship around the world continues to advance our causes. Breakthroughs on agricultural development, strategies for ending poverty, studies on women's rights - all directly serve our mission. The act of teaching and learning itself builds bridges among people. With the launch of this initiative, we have a chance to accelerate these efforts."

Ban said universities in China had gathered to support the new initiative during a conference in Shanghai in early November, while next year the Korean Council for University Education will cosponsor a conference together with the UN.

The first UNAI conference will be held in Europe at the Centro Niemeyer, in Asturias, Spain on 15 December.

"We know the disciplines that obviously relate to peace, development and human rights - political science, international diplomacy," the UN chief said. He added that "today more and more people realise that our work touches virtually all other academic fields: architecture and engineering for sustainable development; the humanities for tolerance and intercultural understanding; and medical science for public health. That is because the mission of the United Nations continues to evolve - at times very quickly."

"....whether people study new theories for physics or timeless literary texts, their work can inspire progress worldwide. More and more universities understand this. Departments are coming together to create interdisciplinary degrees. We are seeing the emergence of well-rounded scholars who are as comfortable in a research facility as they are in a refugee camp."

By sharing ideas across borders and disciplines solutions can be found to interconnected problems, he said. "By joining the United Nations Academic Impact, you pledge to make these connections. And by doing that, you get more than the immense personal satisfaction of teaching, learning and individual research; you get the even greater pride of seeing your scholarship help people cope with their day-to-day struggles."