The United Nations as an Educational Resource

Article excerpt

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. …

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