Saturday, February 07, 2009

The "Other" Education Programs Of UNESCO

Last week in our UNESCO seminar we discussed the role of the organization in coordinating the Education for All global program. This week we discussed the other sections of the UNESCO education program. The discussion in class raised complex issues that I will address in this posting.

The Components of UNESCO's Education Program

There is a complex education program managed in UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, which includes not only the monitoring and support of the Education for All program but also a number of other activities. UNESCO also funds and works through:
  • A decentralized set of six educational institutes and two education centers
  • The UNESCO Institute of Statistics which emphasizes educational statistics (but also works in areas of scientific, cultural and communications statistics)
UNESCO also influences education via programs and activities managed by its
  • 27 cluster offices covering 148 member states,
  • 21 national offices (each serving a single member state),
  • 10 regional bureaus (4 of which -- Nairobi, Beirut, Bangkok, and Santiago de Chile -- are for education),
  • and liaison offices in Geneva an New York.
Moreover, other programs of UNESCO conduct educational activities within their specific fields of action.

There are many other organizations that have affiliated with UNESCO (without UNESCO funding), through which UNESCO can influence educational systems and educators:
  • 623 UNESCO Chairs and 60 UNITWIN networks of universities
  • 335 non-governmental organizations that have affiliated with UNESCO
  • partners from the private sector (multinational corporations, small and medium enterprises, philanthropic foundations, professional and economic associations, as well as other organizations of the business community and individuals.)
  • 4,000 UNESCO clubs in 100 countries
  • 7,900 UNESCO Associated Schools in 176 countries
  • National Commissions for UNESCO which are required by the organization's charter in each of the 193 member states.
Follow the Money

According to UNESCO's Approved Program and Budget for 2008-2009, the budget for UNESCO's education program (exclusive of overhead for the overall operation of the agency) is about US$88.5 million per year. That can be compared to the budget for my local school system (Montgomery County, Maryland) of US$2.2 billion per year. According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, the total commitments to educational aid in 2007 were US$10.2 billion.

About 62 percent of the overall education program budget is in the regular budget and the rest is to come from "extrabudgetary resources" donated to the organization. UNESCO divides it educational budget between that of the six educational institutes (US$7.9 million per year, of which only US$250 thousand is voluntary contribution) and four subprograms. Two of these ("Global leadership in EFA, coordination of United Nations priorities in education, and development of strong partnerships" and "Provide capacity development and technical support to assist national efforts in achieving the Dakar Goals") appear to be primarily in support of Education for All. The other two ("Development of a global framework and networks for capacity development in planning and management of education systems" and "Promote policy dialog, research, set norms and standards") appear to relate primarily to the non-EFA efforts. These latter two subprograms have a total annual budget of US$26.2 million, of which three-quarters is from the assessed contributions and one-quarter from voluntary contributions.


The central educational programs of UNESCO are managed by the Secretariat under the direction of the 193 member General Conference (one-nation, one vote) that meets every other year, and the 58 member Executive Board. The decentralized Institutes and Centers have their own governing bodies.

Of course the myriad organizations affiliated with UNESCO which do not receive UNESCO funding have their own independent governance structures.

Complementary Organizations

UNESCO operates within a web of intergovernmental organizations. Some, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization have important educational interests within their own spheres of activity (e.g. WHO: medical and nursing education and non-formal health education; FAO: agricultural education and agricultural extension services; ILO: lifelong learning and technical and vocational education.) Some have even more direct involvement with schooling:
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): This is a fund administered under the United Nations system which received over US$3 billion in donations in 2007. The Executive Director is an American, and the United States is UNICEF's largest donor. It is governed by an Executive Board of 36 members with a specified regional distribution elected for four year terms by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
  • The United Nations University (UNU) does research and capacity building. It has a headquarters in Tokyo and 14 research and training centers/programs around the world as well as a network of associated and cooperating institutions and scholars. The Rector of the UNU has the rank of Undersecretary General of the United Nations. The UNU Governing Council has 24 appointed members and several ex officio members including the Secretary General of UNESCO. The UNU is funded by voluntary contributions, with an annual budget of some US$75 million per year and an Endowment with nearly US$400 million.
  • The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) seeks "to deliver innovative training and to conduct research on knowledge systems to develop the capacity of beneficiaries." Its Director General has the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. It is a relatively small agency that emphasizes executive training for UN staff and for personnel of the 190 member nations of the UN.
  • The United Nations Development Program is a program of the United Nations organization itself. It is currently emphasizing efforts in support of the Millennium Development Goals. The UNDP Administrator is the third highest ranking member of the United Nations staff after the United Nations Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary . The current Secretary General is a Turkish citizen (with long experience in intergovernmental organizations) but in its early years the Secretary General was always a U.S. citizen. In 2005, the UNDP’s entire budget was approximately US$4.44 billion. Of that total, core, unrestricted financing reached approximately US$921 million. Non-core, earmarked contributions grew to over US$2.5 billion, and resources to support countries’ own development programs totaled US$1.02 billion. The UNDP Executive Board is made up of representatives from 36 countries around the world who serve on a rotating basis.
  • Multilateral Development Banks: The World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank, the African Development Bank and other regional development banks provide loans and grants to developing and transition countries. The World Bank has the largest budget among these, but other development banks may have larger budgets within their regions. The World Bank has transferred about US$36.5 billion in loans and credits for education since the Bank started lending in the sector in 1963. Funds for the multilateral development banks are obtained by borrowing from capital markets; they borrow money at good rates due to the guarantee provided by donor nations. They also receive pledged contributions to concessionary windows such as the International Development Agency of the World Bank Group. The president of the World Bank is generally considered to be named by the U.S. government, and the Members of the Board of Directors are elected to serve specific regions by a process which recognizes the financial contributions to the Bank of the nations within the specific regions they represent.
  • The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) provides some educational services for some refugees. The United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Mid East (UNRWA) provides educational services for its target population.
Donor nations also have bilateral development assistance programs which provide financial and technical assistance to the educational sectors of developing nations. (According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, in 2007 total donor assistance amounted to US$120.8 billion, while that for all multilateral agencies amounted to US$11.8 billion.)

The OECD, sometimes thought of as a "rich nations club" provides intergovernmental services to its member states. There are also a number of regional international organizations (e.g. European Union, Organization of American States) that have educational programs serving the governments in their regions.

The fundamental point is that donor nations provide relatively little economic support for education through UNESCO, favoring other channels over which they have more influence in the governing bodies.

UNESCO as an Institutional Response to Globalization

In the past the global education sector was highly fragmented, not only into national sectors but even into local educational systems within nation-states. In the 20th century, especially in its second half with increasing globalization, national educational communities found it increasingly possible and important to deal with each other. Indeed, social institutions are evolving to allow them to do so.

Think about a market as an institution that is not an formal organization but that allows large numbers of buyers and sellers to interact in a productive manner, especially through an economic process which Adam Smith termed “The Invisible Hand”. The social institution that is allowing national educational communities to interact globally may too function via an invisible hand. However, as an economic market depends on formal organizations such as regulators and standards organizations for its functioning, so the evolving global institution allowing interaction among national educational communities also involves formal organizations, among which is UNESCO, or better, the core network of UNESCO related organizations.

Is UNESCO More Like a Spider or a Starfish?

My first thought when I consider the term “institution” is to think of large, formal organizations such as manufacturing firms, governments, schools systems, or UNESCO. My friends who are economists tend, I believe, to think of the market as the prototypical “institution”. Sociologists and anthropologists tend to think of a broad spectrum of social institutions.

UNESCO is of course a formal organization, and as such it is an enormously complex, highly decentralized organization, beset by very complex governance structures and weak financing, as well as a multinational, multilingual, multiethnic staff dispersed among offices in 50 countries. Its Education Program is then seen as a vertically organized program within this complex structure.

The UNESCO Education Program can also be seen as an the nexus of a network of a large number of interacting organizations – Institutes, Centers, National Commissions, Associated Schools, Clubs, University Chairs and Networks, affiliated Non-Governmental Organizations, and other partner organizations. This network is in turn part of a still larger network of Ministries of Education, school systems, professional organizations of educators, etc.

In this respect, one might consider The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. I quote from the author's description of the book's thesis:
One thing that business, institutions, governments and key individuals will have to realize is spiders and starfish may look alike, but starfish have a miraculous quality to them. Cut off the leg of a spider, and you have a seven-legged creature on your hands; cut off its head and you have a dead spider. But cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat because, unlike spiders, they are decentralized; every major organ is replicated across each arm.

But starfish don't just exist in the animal kingdom. Starfish organizations are taking society and the business world by storm, and are changing the rules of strategy and competition. Like starfish in the sea, starfish organizations are organized on very different principles than we are used to seeing in traditional organizations. Spider organizations are centralized and have clear organs and structure. You know who is in charge. You see them coming.

Starfish organizations, on the other hand, are based on completely different principles. They tend to organize around a shared ideology or a simple platform for communication- around ideologies like al Qaeda or Alcoholics Anonymous. They arise rapidly around the simplest ideas or platforms. Ideas or platforms that can be easily duplicated. Once they arrive they can be massively disruptive and are here to stay, for good or bad. And the Internet can help them flourish.
Using this metaphor, UNESCO is perhaps more like a starfish than like a spider, especially in terms of its quite decentralized system of governance, management and control.

Management theory was developed in the 20th century, and in most of that century focused on the management of large, centrally managed organizations. It has been suggested, notably in The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business by Alfred D., Jr. Chandler, that these spider-like organizations evolved because the information processes of the large hierarchical organization more adequately met the needs of expanding industries than did markets.

With the Information Revolution the world is seeing many large organizations downsize, outsourcing many of their functions. Essentially the increasingly powerful information infrastructure is thought to make other means of coordination possible which are still more efficient and effective than those of traditional hierarchical organizations. As a result, there is much more interest among management theorists in decentralized organizations and their management.

While UNESCO's Constitution calls for National Commissions to share with their national governments the responsibility for the governance of UNESCO, in fact it is the governments that have taken most of the authority for that representation. Thus most of the people functioning in UNESCO's governing bodies are members of large, bureaucratic organizations. One expects these people to naturally conceive of management in terms of the theories most applicable to the hierarchical organizations in which they work. To the degree that UNESCO is decentralized rather than centralized, starfish-like rather than spider-like, alternative management theories may be more effective.

The lack of central planning and control over UNESCO's myriad educational activities bothers most bureaucrats, including many of those involved in UNESCO's governance. The question should be asked, however, whether the organization achieves more with its limited financial and human resources in advancing global education objectives of its member states with its current structure than it could with a more traditional bureaucracy.


John Daly said...

Emily Vargas-Baron, an old friend and colleague as well as an expert on education who has worked in UNESCO and is a long time member of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO sent me the following comment on this posting:

"What a wonderfully useful and insightful essay! To me the tragedy is that decentralized units, such as national offices and their programs, are so woefully underfunded that they cannot achieve a great deal. Sitting in meetings for a year with a budget of only US$2,000 does not constitute a program.

"Regional bureaus rarely conduct the kind of participatory strategic planning exercises that could enable them and national offices to play "starfish" roles. To me, the issues for achieving impact in EFA and other education areas revolve around not only securing additional funding but also utilizing investment principles of critical mass combined with realistic strategic planning exercises in which member states are able to play key roles both individually and as groups. Response to demand needs to be emphasized as well as the provision of expanded supply of funds and technical expertise from Paris and regional offices!

"Congratulations to you and Frank for your leadership in teaching the GW course on UNESCO!

"From Rwanda with appreciation,


John Daly said...

A news release from the World Bank reports that it is about to make reforms that would add another developing country representative to its Board of Directors, making developing country Directors a majority and bringing the share of developing countries in Bank voting power to 44%. Currently "nearly two thirds of Bank staff and 42 % of all Bank managers are from developing countries."

I understand that it is the custom of the Board to make decisions by consensus so the impact may be hard for outsiders to perceive.