The history of the United Nations University began in 1969, with a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant for “the establishment of a United Nations university, truly international and devoted to the Charter objectives of peace and progress”. The UN General Assembly, in its annual session that year, authorized an expert study on the feasibility of the proposal and, after considering the question further at its next two annual sessions, approved the establishment of the United Nations University in December 1972. The UN General Assembly formally adopted the Charter of the United Nations University in December 1973 — and 36 years later, in December 2009, amended that Charter to explicitly grant UNU permission to award postgraduate degrees.
Since September 1975, when it launched its academic work at a temporary facility in Tokyo, UNU has grown to become a global research and teaching organization with 15 institutes and programmes in 13 countries worldwide, as well as administrative and services units in Tokyo (headquarters), Bonn, Kuala Lumpur, New York and Paris.
In carrying out its work as the academic arm of the United Nations system, UNU maintains close cooperative relationships with other UN system organizations (agencies, programmes, commissions, funds and convention secretariats) as well as with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States.
The overarching goal of the United Nations University is to contribute to global sustainable development that will enable present generations to live a decent life in peace, in freedom, in safety, and in good health without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. In pursuit of this ideal, the UN University employs a systems-oriented, interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach that integrates the methodological rigour of the natural and physical sciences with the insights of the social sciences and humanities.
As prescribed in the United Nations University Strategic Plan 2011–2014, the programme space within which UNU undertakes its academic activities encompasses five interdependent thematic clusters within the overarching thesis of “sustainability”:
- Population and Health
- Development Governance
- Peace, Security and Human Rights
- Global Change and Sustainable Development
- Science, Technology and Society
These five thematic clusters, and the topics of focus that they encompass, are not conceived as mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive in terms of the issues that are addressed. They are interlinked and interdependent in the sense that none can be addressed in isolation.
The mission of the United Nations University is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, dissemination, and advisory services, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.
In pursuing this mission, UNU conducts research on problems of relevance to the United Nations and its Member States, offers postgraduate programmes that prepare people for science-based work in the United Nations or Governments of Member States, and functions as a think tank for the United Nations and its Member States. In doing so, UNU pays due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as the natural sciences.
UNU also acts as a bridge between the United Nations and the international academic community, and serves as a platform for global and local dialogue and creative new ideas. Through postgraduate teaching and research, UNU contributes to capacity building, particularly in developing countries.
UNU aspires to be a world-class international think tank and research, teaching and capacity development institution that addresses the needs of present and future generations to live a decent life, in peace, in freedom, in safety and in good health.
UNU seeks to provide global leadership on aspects of peace, development and sustainability, including governance, global public policy, gender equality, poverty reduction, global health, climate change, natural resources, energy and new technologies, with a special emphasis on collaboration and dialogue between developed and developing countries as well as between different civilizations. UNU serves the United Nations and its Member States with state-of-the-art research and with accumulated knowledge in these areas. It aims to be a postgraduate institution that attracts top researchers, teachers and students alike.
UNU will expand its presence in developing countries and countries in transition in order to address the increasing need for advanced research and education related directly to pressing global problems that manifest themselves most prominently in these countries. Through its academic activities, the University will build up partnerships in research and teaching while at the same time strengthening existing institutions of higher learning in developing and transitional countries, as a means to enhance the capacities for self-reliant human and social development.
Like many other ambitious academic institutions around the world, UNU seeks to be a widely recognized international postgraduate research and teaching institution, best known for:
- its emphasis on ensuring the highest possible quality in its research, teaching and academic support services;
- its strict adherence to the methods and tools of social and natural sciences and of engineering;
- its high ethical standards, including integrity, trust, tolerance and acceptance of rights as well as obligations;
- its striving to implement the principles of gender balance;
- its spirit of cooperation, collegiality and a dedication to creating a sense of community;
- its equity and openness in access to UNU research, teaching, capacity development and dissemination;
- its intellectual vitality and openness;
- its academic freedom and autonomy, with commensurate accountability; and
- its social responsibility and the environmental sustainability of its own operations.
Unlike most other universities, due to its special mission, UNU differs in many aspects, such as:
- its global structure, with institutes and programmes in 13 countries;
- its identity as an institution of the United Nations, and therefore its close collaboration with many UN and governmental offices in research and in placing students for internships and the like;
- its acting as a think tank for the United Nations and its Member States;
- its ability to bring in experts from other UN agencies and from the political/diplomatic world; its collaboration with the best universities in many countries, developed and developing;
- its focus on problems and themes, not on disciplines, and its problem-focused structure;
- its high relevance to the problems of sustainability, in particular of developing countries and the United Nations system;
- its focus on user needs, both in research and in teaching; and
- its efforts to bridge the gaps between the developed and the developing world by building partnerships in research and in teaching.
It is the totality of all these special aspects that allow UNU to exploit its comparative advantages as both a United Nations organization built on the principle of partnership between the different parts of the world as well as a high-level research and teaching institution emphasizing a systems-oriented, interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach in its work.
Visit the 0fficial UNU website