About the UNESCO Centre

Find out more about us

The UNESCO Chair at Ulster University is now the longest established in the UK (1999) with a focus on academic research related to pluralism, human rights and democracy.

Our Mission Statement

The UNESCO Centre at the University of Ulster aims to provide research on children and young people, education and conflict and international development that impacts debate locally and globally, contributing to a greater determination to enshrine the principles of education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy around the world.

Our Work

Building on from the work of the Chair, the UNESCO Centre was founded in 2001. Since then, the Centre has engaged in research, development and teaching focusing on children and youth, particularly focusing on international development and the role of education in peacebuilding.

During this time the Centre has built a national and international reputation. Our work has helped to define the debates around some of the most important international development issues, and we have helped to refine the thinking of those tasked with delivering just, equitable and workable solutions to these issues.

In Northern Ireland, recent projects have included government evaluations of community relations; research into the impact of academic selection (with Queen's University, Belfast) that has led to policy change; research into integrated education in NI funded by the Nuffield Foundation; research and development leading to the introduction of citizenship education based on human rights to the curriculum for all schools in Northern Ireland.

Internationally, the emphasis over the last four years has been on completion of research related to children’s rights and to education for peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries. A significant commitment has been the completion of two major research programmes in partnership with UNICEF.

In particular, our research in education and peacebuilding has been acknowledged as world leading. We have helped to set the scene for some of the most important international development debates currently being addressed by international bodies, such as The World Bank, UNICEF, and UNESCO.

Find out more information on our research.


The UNESCO Chair, held by Professor Alan Smith, is located in the School of Education on the Coleraine campus of Ulster University.

Established formally in 1999 the Chair has a programme of work in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy.

The emphasis of Alan’s work in the past year has been on further development of research related to education, conflict and international development. This has been achieved through:

  • Acting as Co-Director of the Research Consortium on Education and Peacebuilding - a $3m research partnership between Ulster University, UNICEF, the University of Amsterdam, University of Sussex and in country partners in Myanmar, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda.
  • Completing two research reports on Education Sector Governance and Inequality for UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Office
  • A paper for the European Commission on Global Goods and Public Challenges.

In addition to this, Alan previously was:

  • A  technical advisor to UNICEF's Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme.
  • A UK representative to the Council of Europe.
  • A British Council visiting fellow to Nigeria, Indonesia. and Hong Kong.
  • The author of an influential report for the Department of International Development, entitled 'Education, Conflict and International Development'.
  • Invited in March 2012 to address part of the 53rd meeting of the standing committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva
  • One of four key advisors to the 2011 Education For All Global Monitoring Report, ‘The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education’

For more information about Alan and his work (including a list of publications), please click here.

About UNESCO and the UNESCO Chairs

Founded in 1946, and based in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is responsible for co-ordinating international collaboration in the fields of education, science and culture.  It works globally to: promote access to education; increase dialogue between cultures to promote understanding; ensure that scientific advancements benefit everyone; and, promote basic principles such as freedom of speech, democracy, development and human dignity.

The UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme was established in 1992 to advance research, training and programme development in UNESCO’s fields of competence. This global network encourages inter-university cooperation, collaboration and information sharing.

Today, the Programme involves over 700 institutions in 126 countries, including 22 in the UK.