GLOBAL: UN Academic Impact a 'global enterprise'

What started with just a few universities "and the simple wish to harness academia's great power for the common good, has become a global enterprise," said United Nations Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, opening the UN Academic Impact (UNAI) forum in the South Korean capital Seoul last week.

In less than a year since the secretary-general launched the Academic Impact at UN headquarters in New York last November, more than 670 universities in 104 countries have joined the initiative, hoping to strengthen the UN's ability to tackle major problems by harnessing their expertise and research for the global common good.

University teachers and leaders have the means to "serve not one student, not one university, but a global community," Ban said on Wednesday.

The Seoul forum, held from 9-12 August, was the first ever meeting of all 11 Academic Impact 'university hubs'. The individual hubs are organised around UN goals and principles such as human rights, sustainability, peace, educational opportunities and eliminating poverty.

Each participating university undertakes at least one project that advances one of the principles, interacting with other universities on the issue as part of a particular hub.

For example, Ban noted that Handong Global University in South Korea has launched 'global entrepreneurship training' for more than 90 students from 10 African countries. Universities in Ecuador, Japan, Lebanon and South Africa recently organised a series of e-discussions on education.

The Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan is using distance learning software to tutor school children on how to create bio-sand water filters to ensure clean water, and the Black Sea Universities network in Romania is matching donors and development programmes.

But there is much more to be done. The aim of the Seoul forum was for universities to share from other institutions' approaches to global problems.

Ban pointed out that there were issues "of utmost urgency" where the academic community can make a difference, and where government action is not enough. These include food security and sustainable development, including climate change.

Even while responding to the immediate crisis of famine in Africa, "we need to deal with underlying causes. Climate change means this drought will surely not be the last. We need to focus on practical measures: drought-resistant seeds, irrigation, rural infrastructure, livestock programmes; improvements in early warning systems," the UN secretary-general said.

"We need to focus on the links among hunger, water and energy, so that solutions to one can become solutions to all."

Ban said universities could also have a major impact in promoting global tolerance or what he called "the great project of peaceful coexistence".

"The academic community, with its long-standing traditions of cultural exchange, can set an example of mutual respect and understanding. During a period when extremism and polarisation show little sign of lessening, such a contribution would be timely indeed," he said during his first visit to his home country since he began his second term as UN secretary-general. Ban is a former foreign minister of South Korea.

Kiyo Akasaka, UN Under Secretary-general for Communications and Public Information, described the UN Academic Impact as a form of "intellectual social responsibility".

"We have seen how the business world has come so far to assume corporate social responsibility. Our challenge to the academic community is for you - now - to assume intellectual social responsibility.

"Peacekeeping needs engineers. Development requires doctors. Disaster relief involves architects. Disarmament has both a scientific and a political dimension. Combating climate change also depends on sound science. The future for our mutual collaboration is enormous," he said.

Students are also involved in the UNAI through its offshoot ASPIRE, Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education, using volunteering and other initiatives to further UN goals.

Michael Adams, President of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), which is partnering the UN on building up the Academic Impact, said in a keynote speech on Wednesday that universities must prepare students to be more active in global affairs.

"It is no longer enough to become aware. Global education has to include global participation. We must help our students contribute to the world," said Adams, who is President of Farleigh Dickinson University in the US.

Related links

GLOBAL: UN forges world partnership with universities
GLOBAL: Universities sign up for UN Academic Impact
GLOBAL: Higher education is a 'global public good'

We can promote such noble activity, beginning in October. We would organise campaigns throughout our network.

Ron Krate,
PhD, Founding Head,
International Professors Project