16 May 2015
At its 28th Rectors’ Assembly, the League of European Research Universities (LERU) reinforced its international positioning by setting up a close cooperation with the United Nations. With this initiative, LERU stresses the global nature of research, innovation and education, and the importance for LERU to be at the forefront of these global developments.
On 15 and 16 May 2015, the Rectors of the 21 LERU universities gathered in Geneva for their half-yearly meeting. The University of Geneva has developed, over the past years, strong ties with the United Nations (UN), as their second-largest office is based in the city centre. Upon the invitation of the Rector of the University of Geneva, Prof. Jean-Dominique Vassalli, the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Mr. Michael Møller, spoke to the Rectors about the role of universities in global governance and the construction of peace, after which the Director-General and the LERU Rectors engaged in a fruitful exchange of views.
Convinced of the important role universities can play globally, LERU has decided to link up with the UN activities in the field of research, innovation and education in two ways:
Firstly, LERU and its members have signed up to the UN Academic Impact Principles (UNAI). UNAI is an initiative to align institutions of higher education, scholarship and research with the UN. It aims to generate a global movement of minds to promote a new culture of intellectual, social responsibility. It is driven by a commitment to such bedrock principles as ‘freedom of inquiry, opinion and speech’, ‘educational opportunity for all’ and ‘global citizenship’. By sharing ideas across borders and disciplines it should be possible to find solutions to many interconnected problems.
Secondly, LERU has applied for a special consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). When granted, this status will allow LERU to express its views and influence the work of the UN Council through meetings, events, presentations, etc. LERU will, for instance, be able to provide expert analysis, raise public awareness of relevant issues, etc. LERU thus wants to raise its voice about the importance of fundamental research worldwide.
This new collaboration with the UN institutions is complementary to the global initiatives LERU has been starting up, in particular the envisaged creation of a "Global Council of Research-Intensive University (RIU) Networks", with its sister organisations in the USA, Australia, China, Canada, Japan, the UK, East Asia and Germany. The "Hefei Statement" and "Leiden Statement", as adopted by those RIU networks, already illustrate the international nature of research, innovation and education issues, and their needed actions and solutions.
Finally, LERU was very honoured to have the company of Prof. José Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission (2004-2014) and alumnus and visiting professor at the University of Geneva, as dinner speaker. In his speech, Prof. Barroso reflected on the opportunities and challenges for European research-intensive universities in the present EU and US research, education and innovation policies.
The Rector of the University of Geneva, Prof. Jean-Dominique Vassalli, was pleased with the course of events and stated: “We are very happy we could facilitate the interaction between LERU and the United Nations here in Geneva. In the past two days we have had extremely interesting high-level discussions."
LERU Secretary-General, Prof. Kurt Deketelaere, reacted likewise: “Linking up with the United Nations is an important and logical next step in our development and activities. The voice, expertise and input of research-intensive universities is of unprecedented value in tackling the current complex global societal problems, which are the UN's core business.”