United Nations University


About UNU

The United Nations University (UNU) is a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation headquartered in Japan.

The academic work of the United Nations University is carried out by a global system of Institutes, Operating Units, and Programmes located in more than 12 countries around the world.

The mission of the UN University is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.

In carrying out this mission, the UN University works with leading universities and research institutes in UN Member States, functioning as a bridge between the international academic community and the United Nations system.

Through postgraduate teaching activities, UNU contributes to capacity building, particularly in developing countries.


History and Background

In his 1969 Annual Report to the United Nation General Assembly, UN Secretary-General U Thant proposed the creation of a “United Nations University, truly international in character and devoted to the Charter objectives of peace and progress”.

The General Assembly ordered a feasibility study and appointed a panel of experts to work closely with UNESCO in examining the potential for building such an institution. The panel submitted a report to the UN Economic and Social Council in September 1972, and in December 1972 the General Assembly adopted the decision to establish the United Nations University (UNU), thereby formally establishing the world’s first international university. A Founding Committee then prepared a draft University Charter and Resolution, both of which were approved by the General Assembly in December 1973.

It was through the generosity of the Government of Japan, which offered to provide headquarters facilities in Tokyo and to contribute US$100 million to establish an endowment fund, that UNU was able to launch its academic work in September 1975.

The first UNU Council and the University’s first Rector, Dr. James M. Hester, were appointed in 1974, and on 20 January 1975 a formal inauguration ceremony for the University was held at its temporary headquarters building in Tokyo. It was there that UNU’s first priority programme areas — world hunger, natural resources, and human and social development — were framed. These priority areas have been refined and built upon over the ensuing four decades to form the three thematic clusters that UNU pursues today:

  • Peace and Governance
  • Global Development and Inclusion
  • Environment, Climate and Energy


Since official commencement of its academic activities in 1975, UNU has worked to live up to its role as an international university by expanding partnerships with academic institutions around the world. During the tenure of the University’s second Rector, Dr. Soedjatmoko, the first UNU research and training institute — UNU-WIDER — was established in Helsinki, Finland, in March 1985.

UNU has since grown to encompass institutes and programmes in 12 countries around the world, as well as several UNU Associated Institutions.

During his tenure the immediate past Rector, Prof. Dr.  Konrad Osterwalder, took steps (including amendment of the UNU Charter) to provide the University with the ability to confer postgraduate degrees. The first of these degree programmes was launched by the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace in September 2010, and the University graduated its first master’s degree students in July 2012.

UNU will continue to extend the scope of its global institutional network and build on its list of postgraduate programmes in order to recruit leading academics and graduate students equipped with a truly international mindset and the knowledge necessary to address the pressing issues currently faced by the international community.





How UNU is organised

The Rector is the chief academic and administrative officer, with overall responsibility for the direction, organization, administration and programmes of the University. The Rector holds the rank of UN Under-Secretary-General.

The UNU Council is responsible for devising the principles and policies that govern the University’s operations, and for considering and approving the budget and work programme.

The University encompasses 14 institutes located in 12 countries around the world.

As part of the UN family of organisations, the University maintains close working relationships with other UN agencies, programmes, commissions, funds and convention secretariats.


The Management Group

The Management Group is a forum of senior UNU personnel that considers policy development, strategy, planning, and other priority issues. It is chaired by the UNU Rector and includes as members the Senior Vice-Rector, the Vice-Rector, the Director of Administration, and the Executive Officer. The Group meets on a regular basis to review developments and address the evolving needs of the University.


Office of the Rector

The Office of the Rector supports the Rector in his capacity as chief academic and administrative officer of the United Nations University. The Office assists in executive management and coordination of the UNU system, and provides overall direction in matters of governance and policy development. The Office supports the work of the University’s governing board, the UNU Council and its Executive Committee, and manages the legal affairs of the University.


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Key staff:

Dr David M. Malone

Rector of the United Nations University; 
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Canada

Prof. Taikan Oki

Senior Vice-Rector, United Nations University; 
Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations Japan

Dr Shen Xiaomeng

UNU Vice-Rector in Europe (UNU-ViE)
Director of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS)

Joan Sawe

Director of Administration

Dr Sabine Becker-Thierry

Executive Officer
Secretary of the UNU Council