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The UNESCO Chair at Ulster University is the longest established in the UK with a focus on academic research related to Education, Peace and Conflict nationally and internationally. The Chair was originally established by Professor Alan Smith in 1999, who over 22 years built an extensive programme of work in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy. In 2022 the Chair was passed to Professor Kelsey Shanks, whose work continues the focus on Education for Peacebuilding and Human Rights.

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 Peacebuilding and Human Rights around the world.

In pursuit of this goal the UNESCO Centre conducts ethically informed research that considers the political economy of knowledge production. The principles of co-creation and community voice are central to our research activities. We work to forge participatory partnerships in all research projects, recognising the voice of local and indigenous knowledge in developing positive change.

Our Work

The UNESCO Centre was founded by Professor Alan Smith 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 policy and development issues, and we have helped to refine the thinking of those tasked with delivering just, equitable and sustainable solutions.

In particular, our research in education and peacebuilding has been acknowledged as world leading. Internationally, 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. Our current projects reflect our global partnerships, with work ongoing across Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Within Northern Ireland, our research continues to inform and challenge debate on the efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the education system, with a body of work that critiques policy decisions on its structure and delivery.

Find out more information on our research.


Professor Kelsey Shanks holds the UNESCO Chair in Education for Peacebuilding and Human Rights and a British Academy Bilateral Chair in Education in Conflict and Crisis. Her research agenda focuses on the relationship between education and conflict in divided societies, exploring education’s links to post-conflict stabilisation and peacebuilding agendas. She has conducted extensive research in Iraq, along with work in Ukraine, Syria and Somalia.

Kelsey has a demonstrated record of external engagement, having provided guidance and briefings on education, peace and conflict to UN agencies, government bodies and various INGOs, most recently speaking at the Education Cannot Wait Education Forum on Syria and the UNICEF MENA education forum. She has led research projects for various international actors, including OHCHR, UNAMI, UNESCO, UNICEF, USAID and GIZ.

Kelsey is also currently the lead investigator on a number of ongoing projects, including; The PEER Network, an AHRC Network Plus Grant, in partnership with the University of Sussex, the University of Nazarbayev, and the University of Cape Town; Critically Understanding Education for Peace, an AHRC network grant in partnership with Bristol University and the IFRC; and The Iraqi Schools Project in partnership with UNESCO Iraq.

Kelsey has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Exeter. Her subsequent academic career has been research-focused, with fellowships at the University of York Postwar Reconstruction and Development Unit (PRDU) and the University of Exeter Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS). She served as the Challenge Leader for education research within UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) between 2018 and 2021. Kelsey is the author of Education and Ethno-Politics; Defending identity in Iraq (Routledge, 2015) and various book chapters and articles.

More information about Kelsey and her work

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.