Celebrating UNESCO in Northern Ireland

Representatives from UNESCO sites and projects in the UK and Northern Ireland gathered in Belfast on 31 January 2018 to learn more about Northern Ireland’s extraordinary connection with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and to celebrate its power to work together with the region.

From the dramatic coastline of Giant’s Causeway UNESCO World Heritage Site, to UNESCO Chairs at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University undertaking global research in education models and community integration, UNESCO sites and projects in Northern Ireland help support intercultural dialogue and international cooperation.

To celebrate this important connection between UNESCO and Northern Ireland, a reception was convened by the UK National Commission for UNESCO, the UK’s central coordinating body for UNESCO related-matters in the UK, in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. The Reception also marked the opening of the 5th UK UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Network Colloquium, which took place at Queen’s University Belfast on 1 February 2018. The Colloquium saw UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks from across UK Universities gather to exchange best practice, and learn from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University about their world-leading research.

Beth Taylor, Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO, said:

“It’s always a pleasure to visit Belfast, and to be there for the gathering of UNESCO Chairs from universities right across the UK, from the University of Glasgow to University College London.  UNESCO’s mission is to promote peace through intercultural dialogue and international collaboration, and it delivers that mission primarily through its networks – including UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks – enabling colleagues to work together across borders and support one another in addressing the challenges they face.

“Northern Ireland is home to two UNESCO Chairs, who are both experts in the field of education and its potential to reduce conflict and enhance human rights.  I am grateful to Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast for their vision in supporting this internationally significant research”

The UNESCO Chair in Globalising Shared Education Model for Improving Relations in Divided Societies (http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforSharedEducation/) at Queen’s University Belfast builds on the research and programme work at the Centre for Shared Education at Queen’s which has contributed to the development and mainstreaming of a curriculum based programme in schools to promote education and reconciliation outcomes for pupils and teachers in Northern Ireland.

Professor Joanne Hughes, UNESCO Chairholder at Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been awarded a UNESCO Chair which offers significant leverage for the work of myself and colleagues in the Centre for Shared Education. We believe education can play a significant role in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence, and the unique UNESCO brand has been instrumental in supporting our research programme and helping us influence policy and practice not just in Northern Ireland but also in other deeply divided societies. The event at Queen’s offered a great opportunity for knowledge exchange, as UNESCO Chairs from across the UK are connected by their endeavours to tackle the most pressing global concerns of our time.”

The UNESCO Chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy (www.ulster.ac.uk/unesco) at Ulster University is now the longest established in the UK. The Chair was founded in 1999, shortly after the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and has received one of the highest impact ratings for education research in the UK. The most recent national assessment indicated that the UNESCO Chair’s research has impacted on education, locally and globally.

Professor Alan Smith, UNESCO Chairholder at Ulster University, said:

“Ulster’s partnership with UNESCO reflects the depth and impact of our research both locally and internationally in education, conflict and peace building. We have been delighted to work with a range of international partners including UNICEF on research into the many challenges of educating children in some of the world’s most difficult, conflict-affected environments. It was great to meet with our UNESCO colleagues from across the UK to share our experiences.”