Parvati Nair

Parvati Nair is the Founding Director of the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM). She is also Professor of Hispanic, Cultural and Migration Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, where she was formerly the Director of the Centre for the Study of Migration. 

During the interview the director of the UNU Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility from UNU-GCM highlighted the importance of addressing immigration as a major issue and the main activities from the Institute, including its implication on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. 


“The idea of development should be thought trough in terms of mobility” Prof. Dr. Parvati Nair said. 

The UNU-GCM aims to contribute to good governance, cultural diversity, democracy and human rights through a better understanding of cultural mobility and diversity in the context of globalization. What activities are you planning in order to achieve these goals?

We started our work here in 2012 and what we have done is to put in place certain research programmes which we work on over a period of a year or two each. Some of them already started in 2013 and are still continuing, and others are currently underway.

The three main areas in which we have been working are: migration, media and intercultural dialogue (started in 2013), statelessness and transcontinental migration (started in 2014), and female agency, mobility, and sociocultural aims (started this year). Within each of these research programmes, we target both a series of events and activities that we hold here in the Institute, but also three broad kinds of publications in which our team engages.

The first is to bear in mind that the function of UNU as a whole is as a think tank of the UN. So, our role is really to advise policymaking in the areas we work on. For the UNU-GCM this is, broadly speaking, the area of global migrations and mobilities.

In terms of our publications, the first and most important aspect is to find out what is going on in and within the UN in terms of debates and policies on migration, and this is a hugely important area that is receiving more and more attention as we speak for numerous reasons. We produce policy reports and briefs on these topics. We also speak to and engage with the academic community through postdoctoral research, and publish refereed publications, scholarly books and so on. And we also try to reach a more global informed public through the online media. We have a UNU platform called “Our World”, and we are currently working with a few other possibilities in order to broaden the global reach. What that means for our researchers and for those of us who work in this area is being able to use the same kind of research findings and write them up in three different ways: one for policy makers who will need a brief report, they will need a problematic and recommendations; another for academic readers who will be going in at a deep theoretical level and with great rigour, and  thirdly, for a broader public who wish to be informed about certain topics concerning development but who may not have much time to read, so they need to be shorter, easier-to-read  pieces targeting a more general readership. 

Finally, in terms of events we have seminars, workshops, and we hold conferences, like the one coming up in June, on female agency, mobility and sociocultural change.

This year, 2015, is a target date for defining the future global development agenda. The UNU-GCM supported the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals especially on gender equality and the notion of development as a global partnership. Which achievements are worth remarking?

UNU-GCM is the coordinating point of the UNU migration network and a very important aspect of our work here in Barcelona is that we are the focal point for the community within the UNU or from the different UNU institutes - over fifty migration researchers - and a growing archive consisting of more than 200 publications on migration.

So bearing this and the fact that the Millennium Development Goals are going to be reconsidered and reformulated in line with the Post-2015 Development Agenda in terms of Sustainable Development Goals in mind, what we have done is firstly to coordinate the UNU migration network. We are the focal point, and this is a very active network now. It has been operating now for nearly two years and the researchers are collaborating across institutes in multiple ways.

Secondly, I think what is very important is that membership of this network has allowed us as the UNU to become members of the Global Migration Group, which comprises seventeen UN agencies and the International Organization for Migration.

UNU-GCM’s work now is very strongly connected to the Global Migration Group in terms of helping to insert migration into the considerations of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

We do not expect at this stage that migration will be an issue on its own, especially if we bear in mind that there is no UN agency that specifically looks at migration, because the International Organization for Migration, which is the main global migration body, is not part of the UN. But we are working very systematically to insert migration into the different points within the development of the SDG’s. And the GMG is trying to do this in a variety of ways and indeed the Rector has been involved in sending a joint communiqué to the Secretary General. We’ve had a series of meetings, etc., around these issues, and have had events planned in New York which we’ve carried through,. I think our work takes the shape of being part of this bigger group.

Which challenges must be faced from now?

I think the challenges are huge because the migration issue is huge. I mean, we hear a lot about what is going on the Mediterranean and I’m glad we do, at least we know about it. But there are other issues going on, for example, in Asian oceans, etc., where there is very little media coverage. There are climate change and environmental issues, political issues, issues related with violence, war, economic inequalities, all huge global issues triggering migration. And I think migration has yet to be properly framed and understood. So those challenges are what we work on; we still have plenty to do.

GUNi has already started the process of elaborating the 6th World Report of Higher Education, this time devoted to the need for and compatibility of the local and the global engagement of universities in the framework of the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 agenda. Which themes of your concern do you think this report should take into account?

If you look at universities, and I come from a university background, there are still relatively few master’s degree programmes on migration, for example. Migration is subsumed within others agendas, within other priority areas, and I think that it should really be the other way around, for a true understanding of modern times, from the seventeenth century onwards. If we look at the major development processes, industrialization, urbanization, globalization, they are all fuelled through migrations and mobilities. I feel very strongly that it isn’t that migrations should be included but rather that the study of these major processes of development, the very idea of development, should be thought through in terms of mobility. If you think about the words progress and development, which are key words of modernity, these are words which carry within them a sense of mobility, of change.

And I think mobility should be understood as being not just change in terms of technology, science or knowledge, but also about the free flow of people, the free exchange of ideas, the free ability to move across space and time and to connect across space and time, and I think that for me it would be a great role for the universities to take up, not just in humanities and the social sciences but rather as a kind of ethos of mobility that is included.

The UNU-GCM focuses its research on globalization, culture and mobility at local and global level. How is this research being transferred to society? In which way does the UNU-GCM engage, locally and globally?

We do quite a lot on the web, and we are quite keen on regularly uploading to the web events, conferences, etc., because that allows people across the globe to access us, so when we say something is open to the public, we always want to think that the public is both local and global; we want our work to be accessible here and there and everywhere, and that’s how we want it to be.

Engaging locally we have many ongoing collaborations: at the moment we are have plans with the CCCB; we have worked with Universitat Rovira i Virgili and with the Academia Europaea Barcelona Knowledge Hub. We’ve had a lot of ongoing collaborations and look forward to more; we have connections with the IBEI; with the CIDOB; with various local entities and universities and we look forward to developing these collaborations in a sustained way over the years.

For us, locally engagement is very important, but also nationally, since we are also hosted by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Spanish Ministry of Education. We have collaborations with Universidad Complutense (one of our advisory board members is a professor there) and connections with Universidad de Las Palmas, Universidad de Granada;  Malaga; Zaragoza, among others.

The UNU is one of the founding partners of GUNi and has always encouraged its activities. With the creation of the UNU-GCM and its location in Barcelona, how do you think we can strengthen this collaboration in the future?

That is a nice question! I think one of the things for GUNi to perhaps bear in mind in its parent relationship with UNU is that the name United Nations University can be a little bit confusing, because we are not a traditional university. If we were, we would be in competition with our local host country universities and we don’t want that.

Our role is very clear. Our main role is to function as a research body, as a think tank which works in specific areas. Each institute is quite small, so we don’t have the capacity to move across a lot of different contexts. I would suggest that GUNi could think about the topic areas that you are working on and then link up with the relevant UNU Institute and not just with us, but I think it would be also good to bear in mind what UNU’s role is and to see how it could be connected with your role and your mission. 


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government