"Habitat UNI is the medium of change of ideas and expertise, being a member of UNI we had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with global academics and researchers within a multidisciplinary platform for sustainable cities"

Nairobi, 8 August 2019 - Education has always been a key guiding principle for UN-Habitat. Universities globally provide an existing infrastructure in cities with eager young professionals, experienced mentors and new ideas. These are essential to the sustainable development of our societies. Developing a dialogue with higher education institutions is crucial for UN-Habitat to ensure the application of key sustainable principles in urban management and planning. Partnerships with universities allows UN-Habitat to maintain a continuous connection and understanding of the ways in which higher education institutions endeavor to educate the upcoming generations of citizens, urban professionals, urban leaders, and other key stakeholders who contribute to shaping cities.

The “Sustainable, Resilient, Inclusive And Safe Cities” exhibition organized by the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Belgrade on World Cities’ Day in 2018 is a great example of the initiatives that emerge from such collaborations. The event aimed to “point out the reflexive role of the academia in the education of future urban professionals and raising awareness for critical thinking in dealing with the contemporary challenges facing human settlements”. It raised awareness and knowledge on urban sustainability and the role of UN-Habitat within the community of students.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, target 7, notes “learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development...through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles”. This is a strong synergy with the SDG 11 dedicated to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Integrating the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda in the curricula of partner universities is fundamental for training the professionals of tomorrow. Numerous higher education institutions create certificates or diploma programs in addition to collaborating with stakeholders from the public or private sector and with other universities to work together towards a sustainable urban development.

As an example, the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) and UN-Habitat partnered to create a diploma program in Physical Planning, which integrates sustainability principles, with the ambition to tackle the lack of trained urban professionals in the country and inadequate planning and land use practices. The initiative also included the Department of Lands and Physical Planning, the Office of Urbanization and the Papua New Guinea National Physical Planners Association (PNGNPPA), building a bridge between practice and education.

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With the aim to strengthen the link between education and urban sustainable principles and global strategies, and their effective realization at the city and community levels, UN-Habitat created the global University Initiative "UNI" in 2014. It is a global network of 230 universities and more than 2,200 individual members focused on urban sustainability, most are students and young professionals. It endeavors to connect academia and practice and facilitates the link with different groups of stakeholders, including local governments and civil society. For Dr. Sahar Attia, UNI chairperson and Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Cairo University in Egypt, "Habitat UNI is the medium of change of ideas and expertise, being a member in UNI we had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with global academics and researchers within a multidisciplinary platform for sustainable cities."

Among the eight thematic “hubs” of universities that were created through the UNI initiative, the Gender Hub”, hosted by the National University of Córdoba, stands out as a success story as it contributes to the expansion and exchange of knowledge for a global agenda on sustainable urban development with a gender perspective. The main results of hub’s work include research articles on topics such as housing, urban planning and mobility all from a gender perspective; joint research programmes between the different universities and researchers that comprise the Hub; multiple conferences and summits, as well as the "Women's Right to the City Manifesto".

The UNI network offers a global coordinated platform for universities to innovate, cooperate and exchange from different regions and realities, and to multiply and enrich their programmes and activities. Another significant example is the UNI Urban Accessibility Hub, hosted by the Universidad Piloto in Colombia. The University already offers a MSc program in Urban Management and is planning to open a PhD in Sustainable Territory Management. Under the framework of the UNI, The Universidad Piloto and the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil are currently organizing an International Seminar on State, Territory and Development with the theme of “Territory Management: Adaptive strategies for change in light of the SDGs” (23 - 26 September 2019 in the city of Bogota, Colombia).

In order to grasp the diversity and impact of such initiatives, UN-Habitat recently invited the universities in the UNI global network to share the work they are leading to implement the SDGs. Amongst all the remarkable initiatives, The School of Architecture of San Pablo CEU University of Madrid presented their partnership with the University of Makeni in Sierra Leone. This association focuses on the creation of a strategic urban plan for the town of Makeni involving its City Council and main stakeholders, as well as the establishment of a neighborhood upgrading programme where they collaborate with local communities and the students of the University of Makeni. A certificate programme in Urban Planning resulting from this partnership is also under preparation.

For more information or to engage in partnerships with UNI and UN-Habitat, please contact the Secretariat of the UNI Initiative at unhabitat-uni@un.org.

A panel of Universities and Researchers at WUF 9
Universities and Researchers Roundtable at the 9th World Urban Forumn in 2018.
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A student at the University of Belgrade [University of Belgrade/Pierre Morel]