The United Nations as an Educational Resource
Schuetz-Mueller, Ingolf, Schuetz-Mueller, Ingfrid, UN Chronicle
This article contends that the United Nations as an "educational resource" results from the interrelation between its own public information function and UN-related academic research and teachings.
While the United Nations public information activities are aimed at enlightening the world in a broader way about the Organization's achievements, universities are aiming at a similar goal in their own analytical way, targeting future decision makers. For that endeavour, both institutions need each other's cooperation. How this has actually worked in practice will be shown through the example of the Department for Political Science (DPS) at the University of Vienna, Austria
Since 1982, Vienna has been an official seat of the United Nations, like New York, Geneva and Nairobi. The UN Office at Vienna (UNOV), located at the Vienna International Centre (VIC), is the headquarters for UN activities in international drug control and crime prevention. It also consists of the Division of Administrative and Common Services, the Office for Outer Space Affairs, and the United Nations Information Service. The UN industrial Development Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization are also headquartered at the Centre.
An important part of UNOV tasks is the public information function. While public information for private enterprises serves to increase their turnover and profit, for the United Nations the goal is positive image-building, an aspect which has in most UN departments and agencies historically fallen short of expectations, with a few notable exceptions, e.g. the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Yet, the possibilities and methods of image-building are manifold. The notion to "let others do the work" for the United Nations, particularly under budgetary constraints, is certainly an attractive one. It would appear that good contacts and cooperation with educational institutions, in particular universities, should be a cornerstone of the UN image-building endeavours.
Like States international, organizations are considered important actors in international politics. Their activities and analysis are a major component of university syllabi for international relations studies. Due to their practical orientation, these studies without a doubt contribute substantially and substantively towards a positive understanding of the complex tasks of the United Nations; at the same time, they enlarge the pool of capable and well-informed people from which to recruit for the ever-increasing undertakings of the United Nations.
For over ten years, the University of Vienna's DPS has been holding seminars at VIC. Through the participation of international civil servants, the students have been receiving invaluable insights into the working pattern of international organizations. One seminar, in particular, that has been held regularly is the Harvard Model-UN. It stimulates Security Council sessions with debates on politically relevant subjects, whereby students are trying to develop workable solutions. As a result of its continuously professional and successful implementation, this simulation model was selected in 1995 as part of the official contribution of the City of Vienna to the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the United Nations.
Internships at VIC are complementing the cooperation between the United Nations and the University. They often prove beneficial for students working on research papers.
The importance of the United Nations system for political science education is also reflected in the many study tours that have been offered by the University since the mid-1980s. Visits to the United Nations in New York and the World Bank/International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., have taken place almost every year around Easter time. During these three-week excursions, each with 40 to 50 participants, some 20 to 25 senior UN officials have given briefings and presentations, followed by lively discussions on important issues and problems dealt with by the United Nations. The Vienna University is the only foreign academic institution which has regularly visited UN Headquarters for nearly twenty years, supported most efficiently by the UN Department for Public Information (DPI) in the selection of speakers and organization of venues.
That direct contact between UN officials and students also resulted in a considerable number of internships, mostly with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), but also with the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Population Fund. The average internship duration of six months proved most beneficial: for the students, because of the unique experience they gained; and for the respective UN department, because the interns usually would enthusiastically "pay back" after the first two to three months of on-the-job training, by putting the acquired knowledge actively to work. Some even joined the United Nations on a professional basis at a later stage.
As part of this committment of the Vienna University to enable students to actually experience global politics in international organizations, we have also organized study tours to UN specialized agencies in Europe (e.g., the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and also to the International Court of Justice (The Hague), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as to other non-UN-related political centres in Europe (e.g. Strasbourg, Brussels). In April 2000, following the New York/Washington excursion, the student group also visited the United Nations Peace University in San Jose, Costa Rica, following an invitation of the then Rector Maurice Strong.
And last but not least, the Vienna University implemented half a dozen one-month study tours to the Pacific Island countries during the 1990s, whereby students gained first-hand experience of UN development efforts in that region and through seminars at national and regional academic institutions, such as the University of the South Pacific, and were directly exposed to important issues of developing countries.
It should also be mentioned that the Vienna University has a special agreement with the Long Island University, New York, which is well known for the very specific United Nations focus of its Political Science Masters Programme that allows graduate students to obtain an additional Master of Arts from the other university under concessional conditions and the mutual recognition of their courses.
The cooperation between the Vienna University and the United Nations has been very successful. University teachings and study tours provide a thorough understanding of the complex interrelationships and decision-making processes, and also help to recognize the possibilities and limitations of the United Nations, which is essential for a realistic judgement of its activities, thus contributing to a positive image-building.
Academic research on the United Nations increases the chances to work one day for this important actor in world politics, which is proven by the considerable number of political science graduates presently active in the UN system. The fact that close to 800 students from many different countries since 1985 have had the opportunity to experience the United Nations "live" within the framework of the Vienna University's study tours speaks for itself. The many internships that have materialized have become a trademark for the Department of Political Science, and are an important reason for many foreign students to choose Vienna as "their" University.
The cooperation of DPI in New York and the Visitors Service at VIC cannot be praised enough, as it represents the essential link to academic institutions, which in turn contribute so effectively to the positive public image of the United Nations.
Ingolf Schuetz-Mueller (left) is a consultant and visiting lecturer at Vienna University and Diplomatic Academy, Vienna. He had been head of the Environment Programme, ENVP/UNOPS in New York until 2000. He organized with his brother Ingfrid the study visits to UN Headquarters and the World Bank, the Peace University in Costa Rica and the South Pacific Island Countries.
Ingfrid Schuetz-Mueller (right) is a professor at the Vienna University's Department for Political Science and a visiting professor at Limerick, Ireland; Warwick, United Kingdom; Lyons and Aix-en-Provence, France; Constance, Germany; and Pavia, Italy. He initiated, planned and led the above-mentioned study tours and other academic activities.…
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Publication information: Article title: The United Nations as an Educational Resource. Contributors: Schuetz-Mueller, Ingolf - Author, Schuetz-Mueller, Ingfrid - Author. Magazine title: UN Chronicle. Volume: 40. Issue: 3 Publication date: September-November 2003. Page number: 56+. © 1998 United Nations Publications. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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