WHAT IS THE UNITED NATIONS ACADEMIC IMPACT?

Vol. XLVII No. 3 2010

UN Chronicle, Issue No. 3, 2010 on"What is the UN Academic Impact?"coincided with the launch of the initiative by that name by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 18 November in New York. The edition focuses on the importance of education, especially higher education, in strengthening a culture of intellectual social responsibility, and on how higher education can help in eradicating poverty, empowering girls and women, strengthening democracies and contributing to sustainable development. UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova, in her contribution, underscores the current unequal access to education for girls, the marginalized, and indigenous peoples. She spotlights the challenges in achieving quality education and stresses the imperative role of proper financing in unlocking the crises. The edition also looks at successful non-governmental models that employ will, vision, and technology to find low cost ways of bringing education to marginalized rural communities.

Academic institutions have an invaluable role to play in strengthening the work of the United Nations. From research laboratories to seminar rooms, from lecture halls to informal gatherings in cafeterias, the search for innovative solutions to global challenges often begins on campus.

Imagine a school that changes location every forty-five days -- a school that comes to the child, instead of the other way around. This is happening on the steppes of Mongolia where the government provides mobile tent schools for nomadic herder communities. Further north, in the extreme conditions of Siberia, or further south, on the hot, dusty plains of Kenya, other nomadic children are enjoying more educational opportunities than their parents ever did.

The United Nations Charter represents the most ambitious attempt in human history to unite across borders, secure peace, promote social progress, and forge solutions to the most critical problems facing humanity. As United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "The United Nations represents man's best organized hope to substitute the conference table for the battlefield."

The call for a "dialogue among civilizations" has become one of the critical features of the twenty-first century. The term itself has been used to substitute and rethink the "clash of civilizations," proposed by Samuel P. Huntington and adopted by some Western educators following the end of the cold war between East and West.

The UN Chronicle has evolved over the past years into an increasingly attentive and inclusive journal. The focus of each number on a specific issue, like climate change or disarmament, makes it possible to examine these questions from a variety of viewpoints. Its contributors testify to its broad geographic outlook. Recent issues have featured articles by academics, UN officials, government representatives, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and recently, the fanciful innovation of testimony by novelists. What are largely missing, however, are the voices from people's organizations directly representing those sectors of the population most affected by the issues under discussion.

In recent years, we have constantly been reminded that we are living in a knowledge economy. Societies that invest most heavily in training their citizens will therefore be in the best position on the global chessboard. Thus, education is being given a new role in the concept of competition. Not only is this concept of competition encouraged within society, whether in the North or South, the implication is that the primary benefit of an education is economic.

Mom Phoeun, who lives in rural Cambodia, lost his father at a young age, and his mother is suffering from chronic illnesses. With cow herding being their only source of income, they could not make enough money to pay for her rising medical costs. Mom Phoeun sought relief by attending the SimplyHelp Tailoring School which had just established itself in his village. By learning a trade and distinguishing himself, Mom Phoeun is now not only able to support himself, but can also provide for the care that his mother desperately needs.

There is no strict consensus on a standard definition of poverty that applies to all countries. Some define poverty through the inequality of income distribution, and some through the miserable human conditions associated with it. Irrespective of such differences, poverty is widespread and acute by all standards in sub-Saharan Africa, where gross domestic product (GDP) is below $1,500 per capita purchasing power parity, where more than 40 per cent of their people live on less than $1 a day, and poor health and schooling hold back productivity.

Since its establishment twelve years ago, the Black Sea Universities Network has promoted the mobility of students and academic staff, organized scientific meetings, summer schools, and workshops in different fields. Today it is an extremely valuable platform for cooperation, professional exchanges, and long-lasting human connections.

One of the myths current today, spread by media events such as Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, is that everyone will be equal in facing the ecological and human catastrophe of climate change. This is simply not true. Clear thinking about climate change and its likely impact on cultural integrity, transmission, and diversity requires that one take note of the glaring differences today among people on the planet.

How far do we go in implementing language policies into the education system so as to integrate a nation's peoples? Nearly all nations identify and determine at least one language as the official language, and some include another as the national language.

The right to education is a fundamental human right, since it is a precondition for the fulfilment of other economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights. It enables social mobility and successful competition in the labour market. Its realization means overcoming poverty and living with human dignity. Being universal, interdependent, interrelated, and indivisible, the right to an education offers equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender, economic or social status.