Queen’s University Belfast to establish the first UNESCO Chair to globalise a shared education model for improving relations in divided societies

Queen’s University Belfast will be invited by UNESCO to join its prestigious universities network and establish the first UNESCO Chair on globalising a shared education model for improving relations in divided societies.

Through the accolade – that has been awarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the full support of the UK National Commission for UNESCO – Queen’s University Belfast will develop and promote an innovative shared educational model to facilitate reconciliation among schools that are divided on ethnic or religious lines.

Queen’s University Belfast’s Director of the Centre for Shared Education, Professor Joanne Hughes, will be appointed as the UNESCO Chairholder.

Professor Hughes’s work in inter-group relations informed a major review of community relations policy in Northern Ireland and was influential in a decision taken by the Northern Ireland Executive to prioritise shared education in the current Programme for Government. As shared education is mainstreamed in Northern Ireland, Professor Hughes and her colleagues in the Centre for Shared Education continue to play a key role in supporting the practitioner and policy communities. Professor Hughes has also been involved in a number of international initiatives aimed at sharing peace building experiences in divided societies working in partnership with education experts, community activists, academics, NGOs and government ministers from Macedonia, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and Northern Ireland.

Professor Hughes said:

“Shared education has appeal in divided societies because it offers opportunity for sustained interaction between members of different groups, without compromising their right to separate schools. In making the boundaries between schools divided on ethnic and religious lines more porous, shared education as been shown to reduce prejudice and promote more positive social attitudes.

I am delighted to have the opportunity through UNESCO to extend our work internationally and to access those networks that will allow us to contribute to policy making at an international level”.

The UK National Commission for UNESCO, which acts as a hub between UNESCO, UK government and UK Civil Society, supported Professor Hughes through the rigorous application process. The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s Higher Education Director, Professor Kiran Fernandes, said of the announcement:

“Queen’s University Belfast will be joining a dynamic, global network of UNESCO Chairs; eminent research institutions that, within their different fields and academic focus, are all working to further UNESCO’s goal to build peace and sustainable development.

Professor Hughes’s work connects closely to UNESCO’s global mandate for peace and we hope that, by collaborating with the Organisation’s universities network, and working under the powerful UNESCO brand, that Professor Hughes’s critical work in using education to promote peace and intercultural understanding between divided societies will be enhanced and strengthened”.

Shared education, recently piloted on a large scale in Northern Ireland through Queen’s University, provides curriculum-based engagement between pupils and teachers from divided groups. The innovative education model brings pupils together for sustained periods, with a shared commitment to reconciliation, access to opportunity and educational outcomes for all.

Now, through the UNESCO Chair, Queen’s University aims to promote the model globally. Working in collaboration with partner institutions, the University will undertake comprehensive comparative research to examine the impact of shared education in different educational and societal contexts with complex ethnic, social and religious community divisions. This is with a view to refining the model and developing best practice both within the UK and worldwide.

This is not the first time that Queen’s University Belfast has come to UNESCO’s attention. In 2012, Dr Geetha Srinivasan was awarded the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science Fellowship for her work in Ionic Liquids and Their Biomedical Applications.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“I welcome this prestigious honour which recognises the exceptional work that Professor Hughes has done, and continues to do, in shared education. Through her role, as the first ever UNESCO Chair on globalising a shared education model for improving relations in divided societies, Professor Hughes will continue to extend her work internationally. This accolade is further evidence of the world-leading research from Queen’s University, which is advancing knowledge and changing lives”.