Since the beginning of its academic activities in September 1975, the UN University has grown and matured into a decentralized, global network comprising UNU Centre in Tokyo, a worldwide network of institutes located in 13 UN Member Nation host countries (as of 2008), and liaison offices at United Nations Headquarters (New York) and UNESCO Headquarters (Paris).
UNU is one of the smaller United Nations organizations, and as a voluntarily funded organization depends heavily on support from governments, bilateral and multilateral development assistance agencies, foundations and other public and private sector sources. Over the past decades, the University has increasingly enhanced the nature and impact of its contributions to the UN system and to the international academic community.
One of the major comparative advantages of the UN University is that in conducting its research it adopts a holistic approach to the complex problems that affect human security and development.
The UN University undertakes cross-cultural and problem-oriented research. UN University academic researchers develop targeted foresight and policy studies which feed into decision-making processes (from global to local levels). Through its worldwide knowledge networks of academics from the five continents (with backgrounds both in social and natural sciences) the University imbues its work with a truly global perspective.
The University takes a truly multidisciplinary and global perspective and comprises the UNU Centre in Tokyo and a worldwide network of institutes assisted by numerous associated and cooperating institutions. As highlighted in the UNU Strategic Plan 2009–2012, most of the UN University institutional representations are located in developed countries while UNU’s focus of attention lies — as it does for the UN system as a whole — on the developing world where the development needs are largest.
To address this dichotomy, the University introduces the concept of Twin Institutes which are institutes comprising two (or in exceptional cases three or four) different components, with one located in a developed country and the other one located in a developing country. Both components contain a group of researchers, teachers, and students and develop a joint research and teaching agenda while spending more than half their time on joint projects.
The principles and policies of UNU are set by the University Council, whose 24 appointed members serve six-year terms in their individual capacities (rather than as representatives of their countries). The secretary-general of the United Nations, director-general of UNESCO and executive director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) serve as ex officio members of the council.
The UNU rector also serves as a Council member, and acts as the University's chief academic and administrative officer, with responsibility for the direction, organization and administration of its overall programme.
The UN University research and teaching activities focus on the overarching theme of sustainability without which none of the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare can be addressed in a manner that enables present and future generations to live a life in decency, in safety, in good health and in freedom.
New and constructive thinking that pays due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as the natural sciences is a hallmark of the University's research and teaching, which are clustered within five thematic areas:
Of crucial importance to the success of UNU is its capacity to get the right knowledge to the people who need it the most, in a timely manner and in a useful form. The main modes of knowledge transfer are through the University's teaching activities, as well as through electronic media, books, working papers, articles, newsletters, as well as conferences, workshops, panels, presentations, guest lectures.
UNU Press publishes numerous books each year (14 new titles in 2008), and produces UNU Policy Briefs and UNU Research Briefs. The UNU Press is the focal point for the University’s publication programme, with a core mission to disseminate knowledge of high academic quality, reflecting pluralistic approaches to the understanding and solution of the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare.
The UNU Office of Communications promotes and supports the activities and missions of the UN University by providing a variety of creative and strategic services relating to (a) media and public relations; (b) design and production support; (c) website development and content management; and (d) editorial support. The Office of Communications oversees production of UNU Update, and the UNU Annual Report, among others.
The UNU Media Studio collaborates with networks of university partners and UN bodies to develop open education resources (e-case studies, course modules, wiki, blogs etc.) web applications and video documentaries/digital stories. The UNU Campus Computing Centre supports the widespread development and use of ICT by the University community while ensuring the performance, reliability and security of the computing infrastructure.
The UN University teaching activities offer programmes of shorter or longer duration which entail the development of capacities while keeping in mind the imperative of putting knowledge and information at the service of a fairer and more ethical world. Beginning in autumn 2010, the University will offer its own Master’s and Doctoral Degree Programmes focusing on such issues as peace, security, environment, development and sustainability.
These programmes will be organized in collaboration with universities located in close proximity to UNU institutes around the world, and will build on the UN University’s existing networks of collaborating scholars and academic institutions. The UN University postgraduate degree programmes will be practically oriented, user-focused and of the highest quality.
The UN University will capitalize on its comparative advantages — including its commitment to multidisciplinary research, its locations around the world, its links to the UN system organization and its academic freedom — to train in the most effective and thorough fashion the next generation of decision makers and scholars.
The UN University receives no funds from the regular UN budget; it is financed entirely by investment income derived from its endowment fund and voluntary contributions from governments, bilateral and multilateral development assistance agencies, foundations and other public and private sector sources.
Page last modified 2011.06.07.
The UNU Council is the governing body of the university.
The Strategic Plan 2009–2012 outlines a vision to make UNU a more effective research and capacity development organization through sustainable solutions for global problems.
Strategic Plan 2009–2012
(606 KB PDF)
New vice rectors, new partnerships, new directions. Read about these and other highlights in our annual report:
UNU 2008 Annual Report
(6.2 MB PDF)