Frequently Asked Questions

About UNU


Application Questions

Working Questions

Moving to Tokyo


About UNU

Why and when was the United Nations University established?

In 1969, then UN Secretary-General U Thant proposed the creation of a new type of university to be devoted to researching pressing global issues and promoting international understanding. Based on that vision, the United Nations University was established.

The UN General Assembly approved the formation of the United Nations University on 11 December 1972 (G.A. Res. 2591 [XXVII]), and subsequently approved the Charter of the United Nations University on 6 December 1973 (G.A. Res. 3081 [XXVIII]). The United Nations University launched academic work at its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, in September 1975.

What does the UNU do?

As prescribed by its Charter (Article I.1), the UNU operates as “an international community of scholars, engaged in research, postgraduate training and dissemination of knowledge in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”. The UNU Charter (Article I.2) further stipulates that “the University shall devote its work to research into the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare”. Pursuant to this stipulation, the UNU undertakes (i) basic and applied research; (ii) targeted foresight and policy studies; (iii) capacity development activities; and (iv) communications, dissemination, and outreach measures. The UNU works primarily through networking and collaboration with external partners, both within the UN system and among the global academic and research communities. In the fulfilment of this mission, the UNU functions as:

What is the role of the UNU within the United Nations system?

The UNU operates under the joint sponsorship of the United Nations and UNESCO. Its Charter (Article II.1) grants the UNU “autonomy within the framework of the United Nations” and guarantees it “the academic freedom required for the achievement of its objectives”. The University thus is uniquely positioned to contribute to the generation and sharing of knowledge relevant to the roles and work of the United Nations, and to the application of that knowledge in the formulation of sound policies, strategies, and programmes for action. The UNU maintains a regular dialogue and close cooperative relationships with a broad range of UN system agencies, programmes, commissions, funds, and convention secretariats — both through formal agreements and through joint activities based on functional links. Key UN system partners of the UNU include FAO, ILO, UNAIDS, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UN-HABITAT, UNITAR, WHO, and WIPO. The University also works with the UN Secretariat and other UN organizations such as DESA, ECA, ECLAC, ESCAP, UNFPA, and WTO. At the highest level, the UNU makes specific inputs into the work of the UN, and monitors pressing UN policy issues to which the University can contribute, through the meetings of the UN Chief Executive Board for Coordination (CEB) and communication with the High-Level Committee on Programme and the High-Level Committee on Management that support the work of the CEB.

What are the institutional strengths of the UNU?

The UNU derives a number of comparative advantages from its unique identity as both a United Nations organization and a high-level research and teaching institution that emphasizes an interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach in its work. The University’s institutional strengths include its

Where is the UNU located?

The UNU Charter (Article X.1) specifies that the University shall operate as “a world-wide system of research and training centres and programmes” (RTC/Ps) and “will have its location at the site of each centre or programme”. Thus, unlike a traditional university, the UNU functions as a unique, decentralized global network, which offers the concomitant advantages of a global perspective, improved interaction with worldwide academic communities, and an ability to tap a wide range of human and financial resources.

* It is envisioned that the structure of the global UNU system will change over the next few years, with the introduction of a “twin institutes” concept. Under this new arrangement, each UNU institute (RTC/P) will exist in at least two locations: one in a developed country and the other in a developing country. Both locations will have researchers, teaching staff, and students, and they will spend at least 50 per cent of their time on joint research and teaching projects. In this way, the UNU seeks to enhance its presence and outreach in the developing world.

In 2008, the core UNU system comprised RTC/Ps located in 13 UN Member Nation host countries (see UNU System), coordinated by UNU Centre in Tokyo, Japan*.

Supplementing the work of the core UNU system are 22 UNU Associated Institutions (so designated by the UNU Council because of their engagement in long-term joint programmes with the UNU) as well as a global network of Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. Further extending the UNU’s global reach are hundreds of cooperating institutions — research institutions, professional organizations and associations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector companies — augmented by the numerous individuals (researchers, scholars, and practitioners) who support and participate in UNU activities.

Why was Tokyo selected as the location for the UNU Headquarters?

The location of the UNU Headquarters in Tokyo reflects a long-standing commitment by Japan to the goals of the United Nations and the willingness of the Japanese Government to demonstrate this through its investment in the University. In 1973, the Government of Japan pledged US$100 million to establish the UNU Endowment Fund and offered headquarters facilities for the UNU in Tokyo.

How is the UNU administered and governed?

The Rector acts as the chief academic and administrative officer of the University and has responsibility for the direction, organization, and administration of its overall programme. The UNU Centre – Tokyo assists the Rector in the programming, co-ordination, support, administration, and financing of the overall UNU programme.

The University’s principles and policies are set by the governing UN University Council, whose 24 appointed members serve six-year terms in their individual capacities (rather than as representatives of their countries). The UNU Rector also serves as a Council member, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Director-General of UNESCO, and Executive Director of UNITAR serve as ex officio members.

Who are the UNU’s students and faculty?

† To supplement the current short-duration, long-duration and joint postgraduate degree programmes offered in conjunction with “traditional” universities, the United Nations University hopes to soon begin awarding UNU-granted Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. The UNU is working to formalize the process for the accreditation of such degrees, and discussions are underway with possible partner universities for the initiation of a programme leading to the awarding of either a “double” degree or a joint degree with the partner university. It is envisaged that the first UNU Master’s Degree Programme could commence in Tokyo in autumn 2010, with a Ph.D. programme to follow soon thereafter.

Reflecting its primary role as a research institution and think-tank, the UNU does not now have a student body in the traditional sense.† Its “students” are the postgraduate or postdoctoral academics and researchers, civil society actors, policy makers, and other professionals who receive advanced instruction through the training opportunities offered by the UNU, or who expand their skills and knowledge by working (often as UNU Fellows or interns) in collaboration with UNU staff.

The UNU’s “faculty” is the academic and research staff of the UNU system (and the broader international network of scholars and professionals with whom the University works). The UNU’s professional staff are recruited from universities, research institutions, and international organizations worldwide, often on secondment for fixed terms, and represent a wide variety of nationalities and cultures. Support staff typically are recruited locally in each host country.

How is the work of the UNU financed?

The UNU receives no funds from the regular UN budget. The University’s revenue for operating expenses comes from investment income derived from its Endowment Fund or from annual voluntary contributions of governments, agencies, international organizations, foundations, and others. The UNU also benefits from counterpart and other support (such as cost-sharing support for fellowships and other activities) as well as from some donations for academic activities that do not go through the UNU accounts but are paid directly to cooperating institutions (including, among others, primary funding for UNU-CRIS, UNU-FTP, and UNU-GTP, and for some joint programmes with UNU Associated Institutions).

Eligibility Questions

Who is eligible to apply to this programme?

Anyone who has completed their undergraduate degree and who is currently enrolled in or has recently completed graduate studies (master’s or doctoral). See the criteria for selection for more information.

I am a citizen of a non-UN member state. Am I eligible to apply?

Yes, there are no nationality restrictions to this programme.

I am currently out of school. Will my application be considered?

Yes, matriculation in a university is not a requirement. Note however, that preference is normally given to applicants who are currently pursuing or who have recently completed their graduate studies (master’s or doctoral).

Do I need to be able to speak Japanese to participate in this programme?

No, Japanese language proficiency is not required although demonstrated proficiency in Japanese will be considered favourably in the selection process. See the “Working Questions” section below for related information.

Can I receive academic credit for this internship?

This will depend on the institution from which one is applying. If an applicant wishes to receive credit for their participation in this programme, a completed form from the nominating institution (part II, p. 3 of the application form) is to be sent along with other application materials.

I am a graduate student in Japan on a government scholarship. Will this preclude me from participating in this programme?

This will depend on terms stipulated in your scholarship. As such, this will be a matter for the Student Affairs Office at your university. However, note that as the intern position is unpaid (i.e. there is no remuneration), one may participate in the programme on a student visa. While work permits restrict the number of hours that one may work for paid positions, an interns’ time at UNU does not apply to this restriction.

Application Questions

How many interns are selected each term?

Two to a maximum of five interns are selected for each four-month term.

I have limited funding. Where can I seek scholarships or financial aid to participate in this programme?

Aside from the monthly stipend and a fixed transportation allowance for commuting to and from UNU Headquarters, UNU does not offer financial assistance. The Internship Office at the UN Headquarters in New York however, has compiled a list of potential funding sources for interns.

How long does the application process usually take?

The application process is conducted in three stages. Therefore, the total amount of time for the process depends on how far the applicant advances. Starting from the deadline for the first stage of the application, each stage takes approximately one week.

How will I know the status of my application?

At the end of each stage, both successful and unsuccessful applicants will be notified of the status of their application. Successful applicants will be given instructions on the next stage of the application process.

If I am accepted to the programme, is it possible for me to defer until a later term?

No, applicants must apply to the term that is currently open for applications as indicated on the website’s application page. Note however that you may apply to the programme again if you are not accepted or if circumstances force you to withdraw your application.

If I apply to the programme a second time, can I use my previously submitted application?

No, you will be required to submit all the application materials anew. The Internship Committee will not use your previously submitted materials however this does not prevent you from submitting where applicable the same information as on the previous occasion(s).

I have applied to another internship programme at UNU. Can my application documents be used for this programme?

If the application requirements are the same, one may submit the same documents as part of their application. Note however, that applicants are required to submit application documents to each internship programme separately.

Working Questions

What languages are spoken at UNU?

The working language of UNU is English. Consequently, fluency in written and spoken English is essential. It is nonetheless advantageous to be proficient in one or more of the other languages commonly used in UNU, especially Japanese, French, and/or Spanish. Fluency in other UN languages is considered beneficial.

How can I prepare in advance for my work as an intern at the Office of the Rector?

Applicants are encouraged to become familiar with the University’s organization and goals. Recommended materials include the University’s most recent Strategic Plan (606 KB PDF) and Annual Report. In addition, applicants may gain a deeper understanding of specific UNU institute research areas and ongoing programmes through the Explore UNU website. Also note that interns undergo an orientation session during the first week of their internship.

What type of information will I receive during orientation?

The orientation is set up as a series of workshops that focus on but are not limited to the development of skills and knowledge specific to the work of the Office of the Rector, in addition to essential information on working at the UNU Headquarters building. The specific contents of the workshops may vary depending on the internship period but in general, workshops cover building facilities and security, writing style within the UN system, online project management tools, among others.

What is the dress code for interns?

The UNU does not employ any strict guidelines for dress code however, in principle, interns like other employees are expected to dress professionally. This excludes shorts, jeans, sneakers and sandals. In accordance with Japan’s “cool-biz” campaign to reduce energy expended on air-conditioning at the workplace, many employees wear slacks, skirts, and short-sleeved dress shirts with no necktie during the summer months.

Do I get any time off from my regular working hours?

Interns are not required to work during official UNU holidays. In addition, interns are granted one personal day per month which may be taken at a time of the intern’s choosing with permission of the supervisor.

Am I allowed to attend conferences and other events open to the public during my internship?

Interns are encouraged to attend selected workshops, lectures and seminars that take place throughout the year. Should attendance at such an event stand in direct conflict with other previously agreed working duties, the intern will discuss the matter with the internship programme supervisor.

Moving to Tokyo

How much Japanese should I know to live in Tokyo?

One may survive in Tokyo with little or no Japanese language ability. The vast majority of public transportation facilities have information displayed in both Japanese and English. Similarly, transportation officials are more often than not capable of providing assistance in English. Knowledge of basic conversational Japanese is always helpful for daily living outside work.

Do I need to find my own apartment?

Yes, the applicant is required to secure accommodation on their own.

What are some affordable housing options in Tokyo?

Interns can find affordable, short-term accommodation in one of the many guesthouses in Tokyo. Also, dormitory style and shared rooms are significantly cheaper than individual apartments. The following English sites are good places to begin your search. Note that the UNU is not affiliated with nor does it officially endorse any of the sites below.

What area should I choose to live in?

UNU is located in Shibuya Ward (渋谷区 in Chinese characters), very near Shibuya Station (train and subway) and Omotesando Station (subway only). Convenient locations to begin your search would be areas with access to train lines connecting to either of these two stations. For example, one may opt to find an apartment or guesthouse near Komazawa-daigaku Station which is located three stops west from Shibuya on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line (subway). The following pages provide useful information on using the train and subway systems in Tokyo.

How much should I expect to pay for accommodation in Tokyo?

Monthly rent at a guesthouse or dorm-style room typically runs from 30,000-90,000 JPY depending on its proximity to popular stations and areas. Visit the above sites to check for availability and prices.

What can I expect to pay for living expenses in Tokyo?

This will depend on the type of accommodation you secure, however in general one should expect their average monthly budget to be close to 150,000 JPY. This budget factors in the cost of accommodation, meals and other living expenses.


I am overseas applicant. Do I need a visa to come to Japan?

Yes, successful applicants applying from overseas will be required to apply for visa at a Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country.

How do I get a visa?

Successful applicants who have applied from overseas will be provided additional instructions on the visa application process after the final selection stage.


Page last modified 2019.04.16.

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