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  February 1998    

Governing Council sets UNU on track for the future
The UNU's 24-member governing Council held its annual meeting in Tokyo from 1 to 5 December 1997 to plan the direction the University will take over the next few years. But the 1997 meeting was different from those in the past. There was a much more optimistic, forward-looking tone to it.

This is in part due to the organization's newly installed Rector, Hans van Ginkel. He wants the 22-year-old UNU to look more like a cutting-edge research university than a UN organization. He proposed a "comprehensive programme of renewal," so that the UNU "can bring top-quality academic results to the UN system."

To help determine which track the University should take, the Rector gave Council members an assessment of what he thinks the UNU does and doesn't do well. By the end of the meeting, the Council members and the Rector agreed that the University should have six short-term goals:

  • Formulate a University-wide strategic plan to determine what the UNU is meant to be accomplishing and to find ways of doing these things better;
  • Improve the existing procedures used for project selection, monitoring and evaluation;
  • Strengthen the quality of research results and, where appropriate, make them more readily available to policy makers;
  • Revitalize relationships with host governments;
  • Enhance cooperation among the research and training centres and programmes;
  • Enlarge the University's donor base; Reach out more to local communities.

Some of these goals will be hard to achieve. However, Rector van Ginkel told Council members that the UNU has three very important strengths, which he intends to make full use of. The first is the University's increasingly important mission of bringing the world's most renowned scholars together to tackle pressing global problems. The second is its Endowment Fund, which provides a strong financial base, allowing the University to prepare long-term, flexible plans. The Endowment Fund also makes it possible to leverage more outside funding for UNU projects. And the third is the UNU's infrastructure - its Headquarters building and worldwide network of research and training facilities. All three of these strengths can be used to overcome the UNU's greatest weakness: a lack of visibility. Still, visibility is gradually improving as the quality and content of the UNU's work improve. The Rector informed Council members that the Washington-based Global Environment Facility (GEF) had recently pledged US$6.17 million over four years towards a UNU project titled "People, Land Management and Environmental Change" (UNU/PLEC). He also told them that Japan's Kirin Brewery Co., Ltd. had renewed its support to the UNU so that the University could continue to bring developing-country scientists to Japan to learn about food science and technology.

"These are just two of many good examples of how the UNU's work is being recognized and supported," Rector van Ginkel said, "and I intend to increase their numbers."

Two other important items of business were discussed in Tokyo. One was the 20-year external peer evaluation of the UNU being done in 1998 to assess the extent to which the University has over the past decade fulfilled the objectives set out in its Charter. The other was a review undertaken by the UN's Joint Inspection Unit, the results of which will be presented to the General Assembly in September. Both evaluations are meant to strengthen the UNU's performance and help determine the direction in which it should go.

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