The history of the United Nations University began in 1969, with a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant for “the establishment of a United Nations university, truly international and devoted to the Charter objectives of peace and progress”. The UN General Assembly, in its annual session that year, authorized an expert study on the feasibility of the proposal and, after considering the question further at its next two annual sessions, approved the establishment of the United Nations University in December 1972. The UN General Assembly formally adopted the Charter of the United Nations University in December 1973 — and 36 years later, in December 2009, amended that Charter to explicitly grant UNU permission to award postgraduate degrees.
Since September 1975, when it launched its academic work at a temporary facility in Tokyo, UNU has grown to become a global research and teaching organization with 15 institutes and programmes in 13 countries worldwide, as well as administrative and services units in Tokyo (headquarters), Bonn, Kuala Lumpur, New York and Paris.
In carrying out its work as the academic arm of the United Nations system, UNU maintains close cooperative relationships with other UN system organizations (agencies, programmes, commissions, funds and convention secretariats) as well as with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States.
The overarching goal of the United Nations University is to contribute to global sustainable development that will enable present generations to live a decent life in peace, in freedom, in safety, and in good health without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. In pursuit of this ideal, the UN University employs a systems-oriented, interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach that integrates the methodological rigour of the natural and physical sciences with the insights of the social sciences and humanities.
As prescribed in the United Nations University Strategic Plan 2011–2014, the programme space within which UNU undertakes its academic activities encompasses five interdependent thematic clusters within the overarching thesis of “sustainability”:
These five thematic clusters, and the topics of focus that they encompass, are not conceived as mutually exclusive or collectively exhaustive in terms of the issues that are addressed. They are interlinked and interdependent in the sense that none can be addressed in isolation.
The mission of the United Nations University is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, dissemination, 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, its Peoples and Member States.
In pursuing this mission, UNU conducts research on problems of relevance to the United Nations and its Member States, offers postgraduate programmes that prepare people for science-based work in the United Nations or Governments of Member States, and functions as a think tank for the United Nations and its Member States. In doing so, UNU pays due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as the natural sciences.
UNU also acts as a bridge between the United Nations and the international academic community, and serves as a platform for global and local dialogue and creative new ideas. Through postgraduate teaching and research, UNU contributes to capacity building, particularly in developing countries.
UNU aspires to be a world-class international think tank and research, teaching and capacity development institution that addresses the needs of present and future generations to live a decent life, in peace, in freedom, in safety and in good health.
UNU seeks to provide global leadership on aspects of peace, development and sustainability, including governance, global public policy, gender equality, poverty reduction, global health, climate change, natural resources, energy and new technologies, with a special emphasis on collaboration and dialogue between developed and developing countries as well as between different civilizations. UNU serves the United Nations and its Member States with state-of-the-art research and with accumulated knowledge in these areas. It aims to be a postgraduate institution that attracts top researchers, teachers and students alike.
UNU will expand its presence in developing countries and countries in transition in order to address the increasing need for advanced research and education related directly to pressing global problems that manifest themselves most prominently in these countries. Through its academic activities, the University will build up partnerships in research and teaching while at the same time strengthening existing institutions of higher learning in developing and transitional countries, as a means to enhance the capacities for self-reliant human and social development.
Like many other ambitious academic institutions around the world, UNU seeks to be a widely recognized international postgraduate research and teaching institution, best known for:
Unlike most other universities, due to its special mission, UNU differs in many aspects, such as:
It is the totality of all these special aspects that allow UNU to exploit its comparative advantages as both a United Nations organization built on the principle of partnership between the different parts of the world as well as a high-level research and teaching institution emphasizing a systems-oriented, interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach in its work.
Dr. David M. Malone joined the United Nations University on 1 March 2013 as its sixth Rector. In that role, he holds the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
A Canadian national, Rector Malone holds a BAA from l’École des Hautes Études Commerciales (Montreal); an Arabic Language Diploma from the American University (Cairo); an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and a DPhil in International Relations from Oxford University.
Prior to joining the United Nations University Dr. David Malone served (2008–2013) as President of Canada’s International Development Research Centre, a funding agency that supports policy-relevant research in the developing world.
Dr. Malone previously served as Canada’s Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and as Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations (1990–1994); as Director General of the Policy, International Organizations and Global Issues Bureaus within Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT, 1994–1998); as President of the International Peace Academy (now International Peace Institute), a New York-based independent research and policy development institution (1998–2004); as DFAIT Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues (2004–2006); and as Canada’s High Commissioner to India, and non-resident Ambassador to Bhutan and Nepal (2006–2008).
Dr. Malone also has held research posts at the Economic Studies Program, Brookings Institution; Massey College, University of Toronto; and Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. He has been a Guest Scholar and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and an Adjunct Professor at the New York University School of Law.
Dr. Malone has published extensively on peace and security issues. His most recent books include Nepal in Transition: From People’s War to Fragile Peace (as co-editor; 2012, Cambridge University Press) and Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy (2011, Oxford University Press).
Kazuhiko Takeuchi is Senior Vice-Rector of UNU as well as Director of the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace. He was appointed as Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations on 1 January 2013.
He concurrently serves as Deputy Executive Director of the Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science (IR3S) and as a Professor at the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Tokyo. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Sustainability Science (Springer) and a member of the Food, Agriculture and Rural Area Policies Council of the Government of Japan.
Senior Vice-Rector Takeuchi has served, inter alia, as the President of the Japanese Institute of Landscape Architecture, a special member of the National Land Development Council (Japan), and a member of the Central Environment Council (Japan).
Educated and trained as a geographer and landscape ecologist at the University of Tokyo, he engages in research and education on creating eco-friendly environments for the harmonious coexistence of people and nature, focusing especially on Asia and Africa. He is keenly interested in the restoration of ecosystems and the effective utilization of environmental resources in Japan (an example being the revitalization of traditional rural landscapes, which are locally called satoyama).
His recent publications include Satoyama—Traditional Rural Landscape of Japan (co-edited, Springer, 2003), ”Rebuilding the Relationship Between People and Nature: The Satoyama Initiative” (Ecological Research, 25:891-897, 2010) and Sustainability Science (co-edited, UNU Press, forthcoming).
Govindan Parayil, an Indian national, joined the United Nations University as a Vice-Rector in August 2008, and was appointed Director of the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies in January 2009. Prior to joining UNU, he had served since 2004 as a full Professor with the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo (Norway), where his research focus was on science, technology, innovation and sustainability. He served concurrently as Director of Research and Leader of the Innovation Group for two years.
Prior to that, he was Head of the Information and Communications Management Programme and a member of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore (2001–2004), and was on the faculty of the Division of Social Sciences of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (1994–2001). His previous academic affiliations include Cornell University, Illinois Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (USA) and the University of Sulaimaniyah (Iraq).
Vice-Rector Parayil holds a Bachelor of Science degree (Electrical Engineering) from the University of Calicut (India), a Master of Science degree (Science, Technology and Values) from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (USA), a Master of Arts degree (Development Economics) from American University (USA), and a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (USA). He authored Conceptualizing Technological Change (1999), edited Kerala: The Development Experience (2000) and Political Economy and Information Capitalism in India (2006), and has written numerous book chapters and articles in international journals. His co-edited book The New Asian Innovation Dynamics: China and India in Perspective was published in 2009. He is active in research and advocacy work in science, technology and innovation for sustainable societies.
Jakob Rhyner was appointed UNU Vice-Rector in Europe and Director of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security in November 2010. He holds a Ph.D. and diploma in theoretical physics from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule; ETH) in Zurich. He is a member of numerous professional organizations and boards, including the Fachleute Naturgefahren Schweiz (Swiss Expert Group on Natural Hazards; since 2001), the Swiss Physical Society (since 1986), and research project evaluation boards of the European Commission (since 2006).
Vice-Rector Rhyner has a variety of international experience, including serving as a guest scientist at L.D. Landau Institute of Theoretical Physics in Moscow, former Soviet Union (1986); visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA (1990-91); and scientific advisor at ABB Kabeldon in Alingsas, Sweden (1996-1997).
Prior to joining UNU, Dr. Rhyner served as Director of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in Davos, Switzerland, and as Head of SLF’s Warning and Prevention Research Unit. He acts as a member of the Directorial Board of WSL, and at WSL/SLF has been involved in the area of natural hazards safety since 2001.