Academic Impact: Fresh Educational Principles for a New Millennium of Global Challenges
This article explains the Academic Impact initiative started by the United Nations. Along with the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005—2014, DESD), and the UN Millennium Development goals, Academic Impact assumes an active role of assuring ten universally accepted principles in the areas of literacy, human rights, sustainability and conflict resolution, amongst others.
1.- A commitment to the principles inherent in the United Nations Charter as values that education seeks to promote and help fulfil;
2.- A commitment to human rights, among them freedom of inquiry, opinion, and speech;
3.- A commitment to educational opportunity for all people regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity;
4.- A commitment to the opportunity for every interested individual to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for the pursuit of higher education;
5.- A commitment to building capacity in higher education systems across the world;
6.- A commitment to encouraging global citizenship through education;
7.- A commitment to advancing peace and conflict resolution through education;
8.- A commitment to addressing issues of poverty through education;
9.- A commitment to promoting sustainability through education;
10.- A commitment to promoting inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, and the “unlearning” of intolerance, through education.
Academic Impact is a program that is open to all institutions of higher education, along with bodies with important duties related to the conduct of research. Along with the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005—2014, DESD), and the UN Millennium Development goals, Academic Impact assumes an active role of assuring that these principles are carried out by interested parties.
The Academic Impact programme asks each participating college or university to actively demonstrate support of at least one of the ten principles mentioned above. This allows Academic Impact to serve as a type of guarantee that the above proposals/principles actually get carried out into practice. The higher education institutions that form part of Academic Impact must carry out one new activity at least once a year, activity that brings the world closer to the precepts of the United Nations in general, and education for sustainable development (ESD) in particular.
The critical role of higher education in economic and social development and as a foundation for world peace is widely acknowledged. What is lacking is the resolve and action of academic leaders around the world. By formally endorsing the ten principles of Academic Impact, institutions make a commitment to use education as an engine for addressing global problems. Though this may seem like a simple idea, this is a crucial step that needs to be taken in order to get to the realisation that the system needs improvement.
Sustainability as a uniting theme, can build bridges between various local and regional initiatives to promote education. In this context, partnerships can be built between universities and government offices, local authorities, NGOs and the private sector, with a view to not only promote research on sustainable development, but also towards finding common solutions to problems.
The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014, DESD), whose objective is to amalgamate the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all facets of education and learning (UNESCO 2005), offers an added opportunity to integrate sustainability efforts as part of the global efforts to improve the quality of education and learning at universities. The World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development ‘Moving into the Second Half of the UN Decade’ which was held in Bonn, Germany, from 31 March to 2 April 2009 and was attended by some 700 stakeholders from all over the world, highlighting the need for more integrated and concerted efforts. The Bonn Declaration, approved during the conference, reiterates the need for concerned international action (UNESCO 2009).
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Context
The Millennium Declaration in 2000 was a milestone in international cooperation, inspiring development efforts that have improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. The effort was to generate global momentum for a sustained movement towards the betterment of educational goals based on the principles ESD. The Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information of the United Nations spearheaded then, a program named Academic Impact. This program has had an objective, within the framework of the United Nations, to provide a mechanism for institutions to commit themselves to the primary precepts driving the United Nations.
United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) as an Intermediary
The United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) is the central source of information about the United Nations (UN) and its work. The Department seeks to create public understanding and support for the principles and work of the Organization, and maintains contacts with a broad range of media partners around the world. It’s News and Media Division manages the UN’s website; facilitates television coverage; delivers webcastings of official meetings; and coordinates and services the press coverage of meetings and briefings at Headquarters and other UN centres around the world. The Outreach Division publishes the UN Yearbook and the quarterly magazine, the UN Chronicle; oversees the sales and marketing of many UN publications; the CyberSchoolBus and UN Works information websites; services a public exhibits programme at Headquarters; and manages the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
Through its Civil Society Service, UNDPI coordinates many projects with civil society partners. The Strategic Planning Division disseminates information about UN conferences and the substantive work of Departments, and coordinates the UN Information Centres (UNICs) in the field, which have direct links to governments, NGOs and media at the national level.
For too long, ecological issues in the educational sphere has remained an abstraction of sorts in the sustainability matrix, with no clear line in event succession and/or how one affects the other. The key in making this relevant to the average university student, college administrator, and university neighbour or other community member is a more holistic view of the purpose and practice of education and its role in the formation of well-rounded (thus environmentally-minded), civically-conscious citizens. With education about, for, and in the environment, empirics, ethics, and aesthetics respectively coalesce into a platform for sustainable living (Palmer, 1998). This forms the conceptual fundament of the importance of environmental education that the Academic Impact programmes continue to build upon.
The fundamental importance of the issues being addressed by Academic Impact represents a shrewd acceptance of the understanding of the growing universality of everyday issues in the educational or academic sphere. That is, with internationalisation and globalisation (outside of the role of the UN), the interconnectedness of many of these issues to diverse groups or people, becomes more apparent. A dedication to educational opportunity for all people (regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender) for instance, is one of the ten basic principles of Academic Impact, though there are several other key commitments such as, ‘promoting intercultural dialogue, and understanding’, ‘commitment to addressing issues of poverty through education’ and several others, both related and not related to the issue at hand, ESD.
Academic Impact then, represents a crystallisation of the United Nations commitment to the idea that higher education institutions do have an active role to play in the resolution of global challenges such as poverty reduction, capacity-building, peace and conflict resolution, sustainability through education, human rights obligations, etc. The traditional action template of higher education institutions was one where these educational institutions were strictly concerned with their own internal academic or campus challenges, students’ wellbeing, and not much else. Academic Impact has ripped through this passive and short-sighted mindset of the typical university, where gains were strictly measured within the scope of how much it materially benefited the university, sometimes at the expense of society at large. Academic Impact has been able to do this in collaboration with the UNDPI, through its Civil Society Service, which has provided invaluable support in the fields and areas of information dissemination.
More information about Academic Impact is available at:
Palmer, J.A. (1998). Environmental education in the 21st century: Theory, practice, progress, and promise. New York: Routledge.
United Nations (UN) News Service (2010). Top UN official stresses academia’s role in solving problems.’ http://www.un.org/apps/news/printnewsAr.asp?nid=32983 (07/07/2010)