During its fifteen years of existence, the Programme contributed to the creation of powerful and efficient networks. Few examples are the ORBICOM Network which brings together more than 30 UNESCO Chairs in Communication, and its activities are oriented in reducing the digital divide, another example is the network on “Women, Science and technology, and water”; as well as the Global University Network on Innovation, aimed at the development of higher education through networking the existing the UNESCO Chairs in field of higher education.
In spite of its success stories, the Programme has encountered deficiencies also, as mentioned by internal and external evaluations: geographical imbalance in favour of the North, lack of interaction of great number of Chairs with the existing priorities of the Organization, and “inflation” of the newly created projects without proper follow-up, or linking arrangements with projects falling in the same domain.
In reply to this situation, and with the aim of optimizing the potential of inter-university cooperation, the New Strategic Orientations of the Programme, proposed by the Director-General to the 176th Session of the Executive Board was adopted.
The main thrusts of this new strategy are the following:
- Creation of a new generation of Chairs in line with the objectives and priorities of UNESCO’s Medium term strategy (2008-2013).
- Progressive reduction of the number of Chairs in a matter to allow for better management of the programme putting more emphasis on their quality and relevance. Emphasis will also be put on the innovative and interdisciplinary character of projects and on a greater geographical balance in favour of the South
- Setting up of regional Poles of Excellence leading to the critical mass necessary for research activities and advanced training in particular domains. These Poles will create a synergy between universities, training centers, foundations, public and private enterprises with joint innovative projects. These Poles will help in stemming of the “brain drain” and convert it to “brain- gain” for developing countries
- Systematic re-grouping of Chairs into Networks ( Networks of Chairs) and the creation of more dynamic networks (Network of Networks).
- Chairs which develop a real partnership with UNESCO with active participation and cooperation in evaluating their programme and activities.
- Finally, Chairs and Networks which not only contribute to the development of national or regional capacities in the field of higher education but also have an impact on sustainable human development in playing fully their role as:
Think tanks in key domains of development such as EFA, the reduction of the digital divide, access to water, climate change, bioethics, cultural diversity and several others.
Bridge builders between the academic world and civil society in terms of research results and the political decision making.
The effective implementation of the New Strategic Orientations of the Programme both requires:
-Access to ICTs of all UNESCO Chairs and Networks, in particular those from LDCs and the ones promoting EFA, ICTs, indispensable tools for transfer of knowledge and research outcomes and for the active participation of virtual communities of practice UNESCO’s priority areas. Today, cheap computers based on renewable energies, such as the OLPC can be used and put at the disposal of UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN networks who need it. Such an initiative has been launched recently by 3 Chairs, that of Polytechnic University of Barcelona; University of Toulouse 1, and University of Andorra, who will be intervening during this session.
-Closer cooperation between relevant Sectors of UNESCO, Field offices, Institutes, and National commissions for UNESCO, and other stakeholders, like the United Nations University. New modalities of cooperation are being identified and progressively established, with both internal and external partners.
It will be largely thanks to its ability to build a strong and enduring partnerships that we will witness the Renaissance of this truly intersectoral UNESCO Programme.