About UNU

A global think tank and postgraduate teaching organization headquartered in Japan

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The mission of the United Nations University is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, 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 carrying out this mission, UNU works with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States, functioning as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system.

Through postgraduate teaching activities, UNU contributes to capacity building, particularly in developing countries.

How UNU is Organized

The Rector is the chief academic and administrative officer, with overall responsibility for the direction, organization, administration and programmes of the University. The Rector holds the rank of UN Under-Secretary-General.

The UNU Council is responsible for devising the principles and policies that govern the University’s operations, and for considering and approving the budget and work programme.

The University encompasses 13 institutes located in 12 countries around the world.

As part of the UN family of organisations, the University maintains close working relationships with other UN agencies, programmes, commissions, funds and convention secretariats.

History and Background

In UN Secretary-General U Thant's 1969 Annual Report to the United Nations General Assembly, he proposed the creation of a “United Nations University, truly international in character and devoted to the Charter objectives of peace and progress”.

The General Assembly ordered a feasibility study and appointed a panel of experts to work closely with UNESCO in examining the potential for building such an institution. The panel submitted a report to the UN Economic and Social Council in September 1972, and in December 1972 the General Assembly adopted the decision to establish the United Nations University (UNU), thereby formally establishing the world’s first international university. A Founding Committee then prepared a draft University Charter and Resolution, both of which were approved by the General Assembly in December 1973.

It was through the generosity of the Government of Japan, which offered to provide headquarters facilities in Tokyo and to contribute US$100 million to establish an endowment fund, that UNU was able to launch its academic work in September 1975.

The first UNU Council and the University’s first Rector, Dr. James M. Hester, were appointed in 1974, and on 20 January 1975 a formal inauguration ceremony for the University was held at its temporary headquarters building in Tokyo. It was there that UNU’s first priority programme areas — world hunger, natural resources, and human and social development — were framed. These priority areas have been refined and built upon over the ensuing four decades to form the three thematic clusters that UNU pursues today:

  • Peace and security
  • Social change and economic development
  • Environment, climate, and energy

Since official commencement of its academic activities in 1975, UNU has worked to live up to its role as an international university by expanding partnerships with academic institutions around the world. During the tenure of the University’s second Rector, Dr. Soedjatmoko, the first UNU research and training institute — UNU-WIDER — was established in Helsinki, Finland, in March 1985.

UNU has since grown to encompass institutes and programmes in 12 countries around the world, as well as several UNU Associated Institutions.

UNU will continue to extend the scope of its global institutional network and build on its list of postgraduate programmes in order to recruit leading academics and graduate students equipped with a truly international mindset and the knowledge necessary to address the pressing issues currently faced by the international community.