War brings Upeace message into focus

March 28, 2003

The University for Peace in Costa Rica has overcome a culture of indifference to meet the twin challenge of expansion and global development set by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The university (Upeace), founded in 1980 by a UN mandate, is ideally situated in a country without an army, a symbol Costa Ricans say, of their peace-loving nature. And as the military campaign progresses in Iraq, the university's message remains clear.

"To take the world away from war and violence, education has a role to play," said Frans van Haren, the university's vice-rector.

Martin Lees, the university's Scottish rector, took over the San Jose administration at the beginning of 2001. Mr Annan, honorary university president, appointed Mr Lees to ensure that the new administration could "strengthen and expand its activities to meet the challenges to peace and security throughout the world".

Mr Annan initiated the reforms in early 1999 when it became clear that the administration was not meeting expectations, in part due to a lack of focus on the university at the UN headquarters in New York, Mr Lees said.

He said the university was "an introverted little place. It wasn't reaching out all over the world. It wasn't particularly spectacular."

He said Mr Annan reinforced a commitment to raising quality at the institution while extending connections.

The university now has partnerships with institutions in Colombia, Thailand and Sweden.

The masters-focused academic programme includes an MA in international peace studies, with short courses and semester facilities for visiting undergraduates.

The university does not receive UN funding, and relies on donations and tuition fees. Mr Lees spends a lot of his time travelling the world, trying to attract donors.

"This is something that frees the university from political influence," he said.

Mr van Haren, a former Dutch ambassador to Brazil, said that since the current administration took over, the number of donors on the university's books had risen from two to about 12.

Details: www.upeace.org

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