Ban returns home to see fruits of UNAI Forum

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Ban returns home to see fruits of UNAI Forum

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Presidents of universities from across the nation attend a biannual seminar yesterday at Seoul’s Shilla Hotel, where they will also be taking part in the 2011 Seoul UNAI Forum that starts today and runs through Friday. [YONHAP]

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon returns home this week to join hundreds of academics and government officials from Korea and the UN at the UNAI (United Nations Academic Impact) Forum in Seoul.

This year’s edition of Ban’s brainchild will focus on topics such as how Korea moved to become Asia’s fourth-largest economy and the ways in which it improved higher education.

The event, the first stop on Ban’s six-day itinerary, will take place at the Shilla Hotel from today until Friday. It is the first time the UN secretary-general has visited the country since he was reappointed to the key UN post in June.

Ban told reporters at Gimpo airport yesterday that the aim of his trip is to “look back on the steps Korea has taken on the stage that is the UN [in recent years].”

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This is the first time the forum is being held in Asia. Some 350 universities are expected to attend, including the presidents of 10 leading universities recognized as UNAI hub schools.

It is expected to show the international community how Korea can take center stage in addressing major issues that impact the world today.

Ban launched the event three years ago as a platform for presidents of universities worldwide to discuss solutions to problems such as human rights abuses, famine and ways of universalizing higher education. About 45 Korean universities have joined as regular members.

It is also tasked with helping the United Nations move closer to its eight Millennium Development Goals, which were established in 2000 to halve extreme poverty in developing countries by 2015.

Ban has since urged universities to implement at least one out of the 10 bedrock principles outlined in the UNAI initiative as part of their curriculum.

UN officials who will participate this week include its Under-Secretary-General for Communications Kiyotaka Akasaka and Getachew Engida, the deputy director-general of Unesco. Both are scheduled to make speeches in today’s opening sessions. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and Lee Ju-ho, the minister of education, science and technology, are among those listed to give congratulatory speeches.

The forum will be divided into four sessions spread out over two days. Today’s two main discussion points will be Korea’s experience in addressing poverty through development and sustainable development. The first half of the session will focus on how the country managed to build itself up from the ruins of war over half a century ago to become one of Asia’s, and the world’s, leading economies.

Kelechi Kalu, director of the Center for African Studies at Ohio State University, will explain how Africa took notes from Korea’s development model and is moving to implement a similar process with certain improvements.

Korea’s government policies on sustainable and environmentally friendly growth from the current administration will be the main issue during the second half of the session, followed by case presentations including at least one on Korea’s efforts to provide aid outside of its borders.

Tomorrow’s sessions will be more education-oriented, starting with a discussion on the educational dimensions of development and followed by capacity building in higher education.

The first half of the day will include talks on strengthening the role of higher education to empower women, as well as the applicability of a Korean model of nonformal education to illiterate African adults. These will be chaired by Rhee Kwang-ja, president of Seoul Women’s University.

The last session will discuss Unesco’s role in promoting international cooperation in education, and collaboration in general as it pertains to higher education in Australia, Southeast Asia and Korea.

On Friday, representatives from UNAI’s Aspire community service project will talk about what they do. The UNAI Initiative included the creation of such communities to support and reinforce what the forum stands for. Aspire is an abbreviation of “action by students to promote innovation and reform through education.”

Several universities in Seoul have already taken this spirit to heart. A leading example would be one project by Seoul Women’s University that takes students abroad. The school selects students with experience of performing community service in Korea and sends them to developing countries in Asia and Africa.

In 2010, 103 students were sent to various countries in the two regions during their summer and winter vacations. They were tasked with teaching underprivileged children there a handful of subjects such as music, art and science.

The chairman of the Korean Council for University Education, which will host this week’s forum, said he hoped it would lead to more such groups.

The UNAI Forum, which will end with a meeting between representatives from UNAI hub universities, is organized by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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