Director-General discusses new avenues for collaboration during visit to Washington

On 25 June 2009 the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, met with senior American officials in Washington DC to discuss new avenues for collaboration in the fields of education, culture and science.

In his meeting with US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, the Director-General welcomed the emphasis the new administration was giving to education, both domestically, by making it a major pillar of the federal stimulus package, and internationally, with President Obama’s campaign pledge to significantly boost financing for basic education. Explaining that achieving basic Education for All (EFA) was UNESCO’s first priority, Mr Matsuura expressed his hope that UNESCO would continue to work closely with the US in the field of literacy, while mentioning teacher training and HIV&AIDS prevention as potential areas for new cooperation.

The Director-General also signalled the importance of US engagement in higher education. He stated that burgeoning student demand for higher education had created the need for innovative and flexible responses, noting that the American experience – such as community colleges – could provide models for other countries, in particular in the developing world. In this regard, Mr Matsuura said that he was delighted that the US would be sending a high-level delegation to the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education (Paris, 5-8 July 2009), led by Dr Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States. He added that UNESCO was flattered that Dr Biden, a lifelong educator, had chosen the conference for her first international trip. “This is an opportunity to showcase the leading role of the US in higher education globally, and bring American experience and expertise to bear on the many challenges facing the sector”, he stated.

Mr Matsuura also had a very constructive meeting with Dr Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations. Mr Matsuura first briefed Ms Brimmer on UNESCO’s work in education, especially higher education. He highlighted the Organization’s action to promote quality assurance and the mutual recognition of qualifications in response to the massive increase in student mobility and cross-border provision. Again, the Director-General pointed to the need for US engagement. He referred in particular to the role the US could play in enhancing the quality of science education and research and in attracting more young people to the sciences. “While student numbers are rising overall, enrolment in science and technology is on the decline; we must work together to curb this trend, which has serious implications for national development and economic growth”, Mr Matsuura stated. The Director-General said that this was an area where UNESCO was looking to partner both with governments and with private sector companies, citing the successful example of the UNESCO/L’Oréal initiative to promote women in science. Ms Brimmer noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had just established an office specifically devoted to advancing public private partnerships (PPPs).

Turning to culture, the Director-General welcomed the inclusion of two new US candidates on the tentative list of world heritage sites. “This is a sign that the new administration is seriously interested in heritage preservation”, he stated. Mr Matsuura urged the US to pay equal attention to the safeguarding of living heritage, encouraging the Government to ratify the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. “The preservation of tangible and intangible heritage must go hand in hand”, the Director-General underscored.

Finally, Mr Matsuura briefly outlined UNESCO’s normative action in the field of bioethics. The Director-General explained that UNESCO had established three international instruments which together provided a set of universal standards and practical guidelines (the 1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights; the 2003 International Declaration on Human Genetic Data; and the 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights). However, he said that the ethical implications of many new scientific developments still needed to be discussed, such as human cloning and stem-cell research, in particular induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).

While in Washington, the Director-General also spoke with Dr John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Dr Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. He underlined the vital importance of US partnership in several UNESCO priority areas, from science policy advice and capacity-building in developing countries to ocean governance and the monitoring of climate change impacts. “For UNESCO to expand its science programme we need the involvement of the US science community – its expertise, its creativity, its entrepreneurship”, the Director-General underscored.

On the evening of 25 June, Mr Tim Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation, organized a reception in the Director-General’s honour, with the presence of members of Government, NGOs and the private sector. In his address, Mr Matsuura took stock of the tremendous progress in collaboration since the US rejoined UNESCO in 2003. “American engagement is imperative for a strong multilateralism and for a strong UNESCO. I had made it a priority from my first day in office to bring the US back to the Organization. […] Now, with a new US Administration, is the time to restate the importance of this relationship, and UNESCO’s interest in working closely with the United States to address the challenges that face us”, Mr Matsuura enjoined. Among those attending the reception was David Killion, whom earlier that afternoon President Obama had said he would be nominating to the post of US Ambassador to UNESCO. Welcoming the announcement, the Director-General stated “Mr Killion has always been a great friend of UNESCO and I look forward to working with him in his new role”.

At a dinner hosted in his honour by Esther Coopersmith, former US Observer to UNESCO, on Wednesday 24 June, Matsuura had another opportunity to meet top-level officials from the Department of State and the National Security Council, as well as other stakeholders with an interest in UNESCO’s work and mandate.

During his short stay in Washington the Director-General visited the newly-renovated National Museum of American History, where he toured several exhibitions and saw the new state-of-the art home for the star-spangled banner flag which inspired the American national anthem.

  • Author(s):Office of the Spokesperson
  • Source:Flash Info N° 125-2009
  • 29-06-2009
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