United Nations University
The United Nations University (UNU) is an academic arm of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 established in 1973, which serves purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations
United Nations Charter
The Charter of the United Nations is the foundational treaty of the international organization called the United Nations. It was signed at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries...

. The UNU undertakes research into the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations and its member states. Despite its university status, it is not a comprehensive all-encompasing educational establishment. The UNU functions as a think tank
Think tank
A think tank is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues. Most think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax...

 for the United Nations system and provides a bridge between UN and the international academic and policy-making communities.

The UNU is headed by a Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

, Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder
Konrad Osterwalder
Konrad Osterwalder is Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and currently serves as the Rector of the United Nations University . He was appointed to the position by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May 2007. He succeeded Prof. Hans van Ginkel from the Netherlands to be the...

, who is the chief academic and administrative officer, and who holds the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. It is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, with a vice-rectorate in Bonn, Germany and liaison offices at UN Headquarters in New York and at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris
The United Nations University Office in Paris is based at UNESCO and serves as academic interface between the United Nations University and its and UNESCO and its...

. The UNU comprises institutes and programmes located in 12 countries.

The Council of the UNU is the governing board of the University and is composed of 24 members who are appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Director-General of UNESCO.


The UN University is dedicated to the generation and transfer of knowledge, and the strengthening of individual and institutional capacities in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The mission of UN University is to contribute, through collaborative research, capacity development, 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. In addition, UNU functions as a think tank for the United Nations system and for UN Member States by providing knowledge-based policy advice as well as acting as a bridge between the United Nations and the international academic community.

The UNU is dedicated to implementing research and educational prorammes in the area of sustainable development with the aim of assisting developing countries.


The University was established in 1973 and began its activities in September 1975. The UNU creation was set in motion by Secretary-General U Thant
U Thant
U Thant was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, died in September 1961....

 in 1969. Over the years, several Institutes of UNU were created to help with the research initiatives of the United Nations. Most notably, in 2007, a vice-rectorate was established in Bonn (UNU-ViE), Germany, as a way of strengthening UNU’s presence in Europe. UNU-ViE is dedicated to developing knowledge-based sustainable solutions for global problems and is, therefore, an active organizer of international science policy dialogues for sustainability.

To date, there have been five Rectors at the UNU, Prof. Dr. Konrad Osterwalder being the current Rector since 1 September 2007.

Past rectors appointed include:
James M. Hester (11 November 1974),
Soedjatmoko (10 April 1980),
Heitor Gurgulino de Souza (30 March 1987),
Hans J.A. Van Ginkel (1 September 1997).

Research Activities

In December 2009, the UN General Assembly amended the UNU Charter to make it possible for UNU to “grant and confer master’s degrees and doctorates, diplomas, certificates and other academic distinctions under conditions laid down for that purpose in the statutes by the Council.”

The role of the UN University is to generate new knowledge, enhance individual and institutional capacities, and disseminate its useful information to relevant audiences. Within the scope of these five thematic clusters, the UN University undertakes:
  • Cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research (utilizing innovative, science-based techniques and methodologies to study important global processes and elaborate forward-looking solutions) and targeted foresight and policy studies (aimed at developing policy-relevant prescriptions and evaluating the feasibility and comparative advantages of each option);
  • Postgraduate-level education (degree-oriented programmes and specialized training focused on problems and solutions rather than academic disciplines) and capacity development activities (aimed at helping developing and transitional countries to enhance local potential to address current problems/confront emergent challenges); and
  • Knowledge sharing and transfer (to deliver relevant information about UN University research, current scientific advances and best practices, in a timely manner and in a usable form, to those who most need it and can best utilize it).

As prescribed in the United Nations University Strategic Plan 2011–2014, the 26 major topics of focus of the UN University’s academic work fall within five interdependent thematic clusters:
  1. Peace, Security and Human Rights, Peace building and peace keeping, Conflict resolution and human security, Fostering dialogue among civilizations, religions and cultures, Human rights and ethics, Gender equality and mainstreaming,
  2. Human and Socio-economic Development and Good Governance, Growth and economic development, Alleviating poverty and inequalities, Good governance, Enhancing educational capacities, Fair trade, Processes and consequences of regional integration and cooperation, Leadership, management and entrepreneurship.
  3. Global Health, Population and Sustainable Livelihoods, Global health, Safe water and sanitation, Food and nutrition for human and social development, Combating HIV/AIDS, Population changes and migration.
  4. Global Change and Sustainable Development, Climate change — adaptation and mitigation, Ecological health and biodiversity, New risk and vulnerabilities, Sustainable land, agriculture and natural resources management, Green economy.
  5. Science, Technology, Innovation and Society, Science, technology and innovation, Sustainable energy futures, Sustainable urban futures, Sustainable housing and construction.

Collectively, these thematic clusters define the programme space within which the UN University undertakes its academic activities. These clusters and the topics of focus that they encompass, however, are not conceived as mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive in terms of the issues that are addressed. Many pressing global issues cut across thematic boundaries and must be approached through a holistic and interdisciplinary framework. And some key perspectives (such as gender equality, human rights and sustainability) pervade all aspects of the UN University’s work.

Structure of the UN University

The academic work of the United Nations University is carried out by a global system of research and training institutes and programmes.


  • UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS)
    The United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies is a of the United Nations University . Based in Bruges, since 2001, UNU-CRIS specialises in the comparative study of regional integration, monitoring and assessing regional integration worldwide and in the study...

     in Bruges, Belgium

The UNU Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (Bruges, Belgium) specializes in the processes and consequences of regional integration and cooperation. The institute acts as a resource for the UN system, with particular links to the UN bodies dealing with regional integration, and works in partnership with initiatives and centres throughout the world that are concerned with issues of integration and cooperation.
The UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (Bonn, Germany) explores problems and promotes solutions related to the environmental dimension of human security and aims at academic excellence in two broad thematic areas: (i) vulnerability assessment, resilience analysis, risk management and adaptation strategies within linked human-environment systems and (ii) internal displacement and transboundary migration due to environmental push-factors.
The UNU Institute of Advanced Studies (Yokohama, Japan) seeks to advance knowledge and promote learning for policy making to meet the challenges of environmentally sustainable development. The research programmes in the institute analyse local, regional and global environmental issues from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives, bringing together the natural, social, and life sciences.
The UNU International Institute for Global Health (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) undertakes research, capacity development and dissemination of knowledge related to key issues of human health. The aim is to contribute to the development and strengthening of health services policy frameworks and management actions, particularly for people in developing countries, and to support implementation of promotive and preventive approach to human health
  • UNU International Institute for Software Technology (UNU-IIST) in Macao, China

The UNU International Institute for Software Technology (Macao, China) aims to help developing countries improve their capacities in the area of software technology and innovative applications of information technology, and hence their ability to participate in and benefit from the rapid development of information and communication technologies.
The UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (Accra, Ghana) supports the building of African capacity by strengthening national institutions to promote sustainable use of the continent’s natural resources for development. The aim is to help African scientists, technologists and institutions acquire capabilities to generate, adapt and apply knowledge and technology to promote the more efficient utilization of natural resources for self-reliant development, and thus contribute to eradicating rural poverty and improving food security.
The UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) works directly on the global water crisis., The three core functions of UNU-INWEH are: (i) helping developing countries meet the Millennium Development Goals through capacity development: (ii) facilitating global knowledge enhancement and networking to address the global water crisis; and (iii) fostering better approaches to water management and governance through applied research designed to fill critical policy gaps
The UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (Tokyo, Japan) seeks to achieve and promote a better understanding of three of the most pressing issues on the UN agenda: global change, peace and security, and development. UNU-ISP takes an innovative approach to sustainability, bridging these cross-cutting themes through research, educational and collaborative initiatives with the aim of solving current problems and anticipating future challenges.

The UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Institute on Innovation and Technology (Maastricht, Netherlands) provides insights into the social, political and economic factors that drive technological change and innovation. The institute’s research and training programmes address a broad range of policy questions relating to the national and international governance of science, technology and innovation, with a particular focus on the creation, diffusion and access to knowledge.
  • UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in Helsinki, Finland

The UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (Helsinki, Finland) undertakes multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on structural changes affecting the living conditions of the world’s poorest people; provides a forum for professional interaction and the advocacy of policies leading to robust, equitable and environmentally sustainable growth; and promotes capacity strengthening and training in the field of economic and social policy-making.


The UNU Programme for Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean (Caracas, Venezuela) focuses on capacity development, emphasizing hands-on training and continuous education, making sure that biotechnology applications do not negatively impact the environment, as ensuring respect for human and animal rights
The UNU Food and Nutrition Programme for Human and Social Development (Ithaca, New York, USA) is dedicated to improving lives by generating new knowledge, providing access to current food and nutrition information within institutions, and helping individual nutrition professionals and practitioners to apply that knowledge at a grassroots level.
The UNU Fisheries Training Programme contributes to capacity building in developing countries where fisheries are of national or provincial importance.
The UNU Geothermal Training Programme assists developing countries with significant geothermal potential to establish groups of specialists in geothermal exploration and development by providing specialized training opportunities.
The UNU Land Restoration Training Programme, officially established in February, seeks to help developing countries in their fight against land degradation, soil erosion, unsustainable land use and desertification, and their attempts to restore degraded land.

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