1 November 2010

UNAI Pre-launch conference just concluded in Shanghai

More than 200 participants representing 80+universities and organizations dealing with higher education and research participated in the Shanghai UNAI pre-launch conference.

“It is our conviction that principles inherent in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are universal values that education can promote and help to fulfil… There can be no alliance more formidable than that between scholarship and social responsibility. We call upon academic institutions, in particular universities, to embrace “intellectual social responsibility” - as an increasing number of business corporations embrace “corporate social responsibility.” In our quest to realize real solutions to the real problems of real people, we call on the highest motivation and qualities of academic achievement,” said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information in his concluding statement (full text below).

The conference included four sessions that dealt with UNAI and (I) global citizenship (ii) sustainability (iii) capacity building in higher education and (iv) intercultural understanding.






Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

It is a great honour for me to address this distinguished audience.

I stand before you, the son of a high school principal in Osaka.

In Japan, and I believe in China too, professors and teachers are widely respected, they are revered and looked upon with awe.  They are, sometimes, terrifying figures whom you would rather avoid meeting at a relaxed moment.

The advantage of being a son of a school teacher is that you learn that teachers are not saints or a different kind of human species, and that you can, actually, be quite relaxed around them.   I am, therefore, very happy to be here with all of you today!

It is a tribute to the respect and regard that the United Nations has for education that the Secretary-General ensured his participation in this important meeting in the midst of his busy schedule in China. And we are honoured that you have reciprocated this respect and regard by making the time yourselves to be here.

When we spoke about this meeting at United Nations Headquarters, many asked why a conference was being held even before the United Nations Academic Impact was formally launched. My answer was to quote the wisdom of a Chinese proverb, “never begin a journey until you have at least some idea of your destination.” At the launch of the Academic Impact we will begin our journey. But it is discussions such as this that help us determine the goals we should seek.

To all our panellists and participants, I express the United Nations’ deepest appreciation. It is a debt of gratitude we owe also to our hosts and sponsor, the Ministry of Education, the China Educational Association for International Exchange, and the Red Leaf Corporation led by Mr Zane Zhou, who have done so much to make this programme possible. I should also like to mention our good friend Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, who unfortunately could not join us in Shanghai.

I will not try to recapture the spirit and energy of our discussions over the past two days. What I would like to do now, instead, is to share a thought that recurred in my mind through these deliberations. Simply put, it was this. We heard different voices, different languages, different accents and, yes, different perspectives. But the basis of the thoughts expressed shared an integrity and a conviction.

It is that integrity and conviction that underlie values which are not personal, or societal, or national. They are values which are universal. And the United Nations Academic Impact has tried, in defining its core principles, to identify some of these as worthy of scholarship, research and student activity.

It is our conviction that principles inherent in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are universal values that education can promote and help to fulfil.  The ten basic principles that academic institutions commit to support and advance through the Academic Impact include a commitment to human rights, among them freedom of inquiry, opinion, and speech.

Delivering the Distinguished Scholar Lecture at the City University of Hong Kong, some months ago, Professor Liu Zaifu noted how the most cherished classics in Chinese literature represent such values. He cited A Dream of Red Mansions by Tsao Hsueh-Chin, which is not defined by limitations of geography or time. To go further back still, the “great harmony” of Confucianism is a reflection of the universality of values.

And yet, not everyone agrees.

In the course of the last 30 years, the peoples of this Asia Pacific region have not just seen but felt major improvements in health and education, and in the quality of life. More than 400 million people were lifted out of poverty by China alone since the country began liberalizing its economy in the 1980s. Clearly, the economic transformation of Asia counts as one of the most phenomenal developments of the 20th Century.

How did it happen? Some attributed the enormous advances made by many countries in East Asia to so-called “Asian values.”  These values placed a premium on group orientation and on placing the interests of the community before those of the individual.  “Asian values” were often associated with self-effacement, self-discipline and personal sacrifice to the greater good.  Japan’s economic miracle was once explained by such factors as patriotism, discipline, good work ethics, competent management and, especially, close cooperation between the Government and the private sector. In Japan in the 1980s, many argued passionately that “Asian values” would become the future gold standard for managing the global economy and global growth.

But then came the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Japan, as you know, suffered during the long “lost decade” of recession and deflation. This economic malaise put an end to the “Asian miracle.” And the same “Asian values” that were once said to have been the source of the region’s success were now attributed to be a source of its crisis.

More than 10 years have now passed since the Asian financial crisis. Countries have restructured their economies and reversed the painful declines that had caused so much suffering among so many. And along with China, India now looks set to take its place among the economic powerhouses of Asia. Today, again, there are many who say that this will be the Asia-Pacific century.

This brings us to the question about just what kind of century this will be.

What kind of values and norms is Asia going to present to the rest of the world that will inspire all?

I believe that an important starting point is for academics and institutions like yours not to try again to globalize idiosyncratic “Asian values,” but, rather, to embrace and further promote universal values - values such as freedom, tolerance, dignity, and respect for human rights - values which are all enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I also believe it is important to consider both the source and logic of the value arguments, particularly in a gathering of this distinction, in a nation of this pride and history. It is fair to say that much of the thought, belief and faith that are essentially Chinese, or Asian, or African are indigenous. But equally, much has evolved in response, or retaliation, to ideas and doctrines seen as imposed by foreign powers whose territorial ambitions were more hostile than the morality of their professed beliefs. Indeed, values practiced at home and discarded abroad are no more universal than values domestically abandoned but externally championed.

Distinguished friends,

Just a month ago, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao gave a television interview in which he made points which are, I believe, of compelling relevance to the ideas and experiences shared at this conference.

Prime Minister Wen asserted that freedom of speech is indispensable, for any country, a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong. Freedom of speech, he noted, has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution. And he pointed out that in China, there are about 400 million Internet users and 800 million mobile phone subscribers.

So much of this is synonymous with the spirit and intent of the United Nations Academic Impact. To unleash minds and their potential by asserting the right to enquire, the right to challenge every dogma, even if it happens to be the only dogma prevalent at the moment. To allow the liberty to express views and opinions and to acknowledge the responsibility to substantiate them.

And then Prime Minister Wen summed up his political ideals into four principles:  to let everyone lead a happy life with dignity, to let everyone feel safe and secure, to let society be one with equity and justice, and to let everyone have confidence in the future.

How much more universal can the values that these principles reflect be? And, at the same time, how much more intensely personal?

In that, to my mind, lies the integrity and, indeed, universality of the United Nations Academic Impact. There can be no alliance more formidable than that between scholarship and social responsibility. We call upon academic institutions, in particular universities, to embrace “intellectual social responsibility” - as an increasing number of business corporations embrace “corporate social responsibility.” In our quest to realize real solutions to the real problems of real people, we call on the highest motivation and qualities of academic achievement.

Distinguished friends,

For more than 60 years, the United Nations has worked to advance a common understanding - of human progress, peace, and human rights - among nations and peoples. With globalization, massive increases in international trade and investment, and rapid communications, it became obvious in the 1990s that the United Nations had to also engage business in helping to spread universal values and principles.

Today, the United Nations is working increasingly with the private sector to ensure that its behaviour contributes positively to global growth and good governance and to the achievement of international goals, like the Millennium Development Goals.

More than 6,200 businesses, including 158 Chinese businesses, are membersof the UN Global Compact, the most effective partnership programmes of theUN with private companies.

For a country as vast as China, innovative technology is essential for the accessibility of contemporary education. Its success in devising this can be a model for other parts of the world. In September, Secretary-General Ban convened the Private Sector Forum at the United Nations. We were heartened to hear the Chairman of the China Mobile Communications Corporation, Wang Jianzhou, speak of partnerships being initiated to ensure that the increasing sophistication of cellular technology can assure a commensurate increase in the sophistication of education in areas considered geographically isolated.

We will now work more closely and effectively with the academic communities of the world through the Academic Impact.

Universities may, for example, undertake research projects and papers on climate change, host seminars and conferences on economic development, participate in the Global Model UN student programme, and initiate web-based tutorials and lectures on the work of the Organization.

Several activities are already underway.

Waseda University in Japan, which has recently joined the Academic Impact, has pioneered work that harmonizes the imperatives of energy security, environmental protection and economic growth. Its Global Seminar on Sustainability will bring together nine prominent Asian and American universities to conduct joint research in this field.

Another Japanese University, Chuo University, has initiated a project called “Team Water Japan,” where parliamentarians, business, higher academic institutions and experts collaborate with each other in order to contribute to solving water problems worldwide.

Anhui Normal University is the first Chinese university to create and integrate environmental protection courses into its higher education curriculum. It has also launched the “Green Campus Initiative” that directly engages students.

In a little more than two weeks, the United Nations will formally launch the Academic Impact at UN Headquarters in New York, with the presence of the Secretary-General and the heads of universities from around the world.

I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Government of the People’s Republic of China and to the China Symphony Development Foundation for its generosity in offering an inaugural concert by the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestra to be held in the United Nations General Assembly Hall for the launch.

Our new journey will begin.

These two days have helped pave and direct the way.  It will be a journey destined to be filled with productive endeavours with the participation of academic personnel and students. Many will soon ask themselves why we had not initiated this mutually productive partnership much earlier.

I am confident that soon we will have thousands of universities and institutes of higher education from all regions joining us in the Academic Impact.

Ours will be a collective, exciting journey in which imagination and expression will be unfettered. That is the very least we owe to your talents and scholarship. For, to return to the beauty of Chinese poetry, a bird does not sing because it has the answer…A bird sings because it has a song.

Thank you.