UNESCO based efforts at capacity building from UICEE to WFEO

Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E.

World Expertise LLC

Falls Church , VA , USA


ABSTRACT: UNESCO established the Steering Committee for Human Resources Development for Technical Industry Stimulation in 1992 following an International Congress for Engineering Deans and Industry Leaders that was held at the Ohio State University in 1989.  The Committee operated from 1992 until 1996 when the International Committee on Engineering Education (ICEE) superseded it.  The ICEE reported directly to the Director-General of UNESCO and typically met every six to nine months. For nearly a decade, these two committees worked to turn the recommendations from the UNESCO series of international congresses into reality.  Accomplishments are described in this paper. With the change over in administrative management of UNESCO in late 1999, the ICEE was discharged in February 2000. After that time, UNESCO indicated that the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) would provide it guidance in the engineering and engineering education areas. In 2003, WFEO established a new Standing Committee on Capacity Building to work with UNESCO in furthering its aims of building technical capacity in developing countries to support sustainable economic development and poverty reduction efforts. This paper describes this evolution of organizations and activities.

STEERING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT FOR TECHNICAL INDUSTRY STIMULATION                                                                   

UNESCO created the Steering Committee on Human Resources Development for Technical Industry Stimulation in 1992 as an outgrowth of the First International Congress for Engineering Deans and Industry Leaders held at Ohio State University in 1989.  The goal of the Committee was to turn projects proposed at the conclusion of the Congresses into concrete projects.  UNESCO continued the series of International Congresses by hosting them in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1996. The Committee was quite successful; its accomplishments were summarized in a paper by Russel Jones (1) and the major results are itemized below

·               Sister University Programs, the so-called UNITWIN program, to include more engineering pairings,

·               University—Industry Cooperation,

·               Database on Engineering Education,

·               UNESCO chairs in engineering,

·               Engineering education standards and equivalency  

·               Clearing House on Equipment and Courseware, led to the creation of the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education hosted by Monash University in Australia, and

·               Uses of satellite technology

In the 1994 paper describing early efforts of this first UNESCO steering committee, Jones wrote the following about the startup of the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education (UICEE):

“A working group at the 1991 congress recommended the creation of a framework for the support of transfer of engineering courseware, software, equipment and teaching methodologies between developed and developing countries. In particular, it was recommended that a clearing-house on teaching equipment, courseware, software and methodology utilised in engineering education be established under UNESCO auspices. Such a clearing-house or center would facilitate the collection, description, and storage of information, and also develop suitable methods for the subsequent dissemination of the collected and digested information.

“The Steering Committee has developed a plan for establishment of such a clearing-house, to be established at an appropriate institution of higher education with external funding – under UNESCO auspices. On the basis of a strong proposal from a coalition of institutions in Australia , the Steering Committee has approved the establishment of a new International Centre for Engineering Education at Monash University in Melbourne , Australia , to meet this clearing house need, with startup scheduled for 1993-94.

“The UNESCO supported International Centre is to be located within the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University , under the leadership of Dean Peter LeP Darvall and Director Zenon J. Pudlowski. Its several objectives include:

·               Collect information on equipment, courseware and software currently used in engineering education.

·               Review, and recommend those items appropriate for developing countries.

·               Assess effectiveness of engineering education programs in place in developing countries, and develop models and methodologies for their enhancement.

·               Review R&D on engineering education, and disseminate appropriate information to educators in developing countries via modern techniques.

·               Organize appropriate short courses and conferences on engineering education.

As this clearinghouse effort matures, additional regional centers may become appropriate.”

The Steering Committee operated from 1992 until 1996 when the International Committee on Engineering Education (ICEE) superseded it. 


The ICEE reported directly to the Director-General of UNESCO, Dr. Federico Mayor, and typically met every six to nine months.  The International Committee on Engineering Education was no longer tied to the International Congresses and UNESCO discontinued these.  The accomplishments of the ICEE over nearly four years of operations were described in a 2001 paper by Johnson et al (2). Several activities were pursued during those years:

·               Centre for business development (a demonstration project between the Technical University of Denmark and the Kaunas University of Lithuania)

·               UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education (see below)

·               Quality Issues in Engineering Education (a 1999 special issue of the Global Journal of Engineering education (3))

·               World Conferences (Participation in UNESCO meetings, the World Conference on Higher Education in Paris in 1998, and the World Conference on Science in 1999)

·               Satellite Universities (Planning for satellite delivery systems in developing parts of the world; see paper by Lakhder and Johnson (4))

In the Johnson et al paper from 2001, the then current status of UICEE was described as follows:

 “Under the sponsorship of the Steering Committee, Prof. Zenon Pudlowski was encouraged to form the UNESCO Sponsored International Centre for Engineering Education.  The Centre was hosted at Monash University in Melbourne , Australia .  Working with and through he ICEE, UNESCO and the Australian National Commission of UNESCO, the Centre was able to drop the word ‘sponsored’ from its name and to become the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education (UICEE).  Today, UICEE produces the Global Journal of Engineering Education, and numerous series of regional and global engineering conferences including the UICEE Annual Conference series, the Baltic Region Seminar series, the East/West series, the Asia-Pacific Forum series, and the Global Congress series.  Potentially, the most far reaching activity is the creation of a number of sub-centres located in various geographic regions:  the Technical University of  Denmark(Denmark), Ryerson Polytechnic University (Canada), Anna University (India), Tomsk Polytechnic University (Russia), Hochschule Wismar—University of Technology, Business and Design (Germany), Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland), and Aslborg University of Technology (Denmark).  The interested reader is encouraged to check out the UICEE web site at URL http://www.eng.monash.edu.au/uicee.  Issues of the Global Journal of Engineering Education are available online, one issue later than the currently published issue.”

The current status and activities of the UICEE can be reviewed in its annual reports, posted on its web site.


In 2003, the United States of America rejoined UNESCO after an absence of 18 years. The US government indicated to UNESCO that it wanted a significant portion of the increased funds that it would provide to its budget to be allocated to enhancing its programs in engineering and engineering education. A major proposal on how to mount an enhanced program, entitled “Engineering for a Better World”, has been developed by the US engineering community and UNESCO’s engineering staff and submitted to UNESCO for consideration. Following are relevant portions of that proposal.

The importance of the engineering sciences and technology in driving sustainable economic and social development and addressing basic needs and the reduction of poverty was emphasised at the World Conference on Science in 1999, the World Engineers’ Convention in 2000 (and will be on the agenda at the WEC 2004 meeting in Shanghai), the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and relate particularly to the UN Millennium Development Goals. There is increasing concern, however, regarding the capacity of countries around the world to apply engineering and technology for development and poverty reduction, and a consequent need for capacity building in the engineering sciences and technology. At the same time, there is also increasing awareness regarding the need to strengthen the capacity of UNESCO in the engineering sciences and technology to assist member states in this process.

The overall vision and mission of UNESCO in the engineering sciences and technology is to promote human and institutional capacity building for poverty reduction and sustainable economic and social development. In order to promote engineering there is a need to enhance the public understanding of engineering and for systemic reform in engineering education to encompass wider social and ethical concerns in such areas as gender sensitivity, sustainable design, problem- and project-based learning in an inter-sectoral approach.

The overall strategy of UNESCO and the “Engineering For a Better World” proposal is to promote human and institutional capacity building, particularly in the developing countries, through the transfer and exchange of knowledge and innovation in international networking, cooperation, intercultural dialogue and partnership. The program will reflect UN Millennium Development Goals and UNESCO priorities and Medium Term Strategy including sustainable development and poverty eradication, the New Partnership for Africa ’s Development (NEPAD) priorities, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), small island states, young people, women and gender issues in engineering. Key strategic challenges the Program will face are why young people around the world are turning away from engineering and how this may be understood and addressed, how best to promote the public understanding of engineering and how engineering may most effectively be applied to poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The overall objectives of the proposal are to strengthen human and institutional capacity in developing and developed countries, to promote engineering to young people and to provide an interactive and catalytic role for the application of engineering and technological resources to sustainable economic and social development and poverty eradication. There will be specific reference to the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting gender equity and empowering women and developing global partnership for development.

The Program “Engineering for a Better World” will facilitate the commitment of the international engineering community to work with and strengthen the capacity of UNESCO to assist member states in applying engineering and technology to sustainable development and poverty eradication. The program will strengthen regular program activities as an integral program of UNESCO, using Regular Program funds and also seek extra-budgetary financial support.

We live in globalizing knowledge societies, where the application of science, engineering and technology are of increasing importance for economic and social development.  As knowledge-based development is emphasized, science and engineering are faced with the prospect of shortages of qualified engineers and supporting technologists primarily in developing nations. 

The program strategy to promote human and institutional capacity building in engineering will focus on the need for:

·                     strengthening engineering education, training and continued professional development;

·                     standards, quality assurance and accreditation;

·                     development of curricula, learning and teaching materials and methods;

·                     distance and interactive learning (including virtual universities and libraries);

·                     development of engineering ethics and codes of practice;

·                     promotion and public understanding of engineering and technology;

·                     development of indicators, information and communication systems for engineering;

·                     addressing women and gender issues in engineering and technology;

·                     inter-university and institutional cooperation, including fellowships;

·                     development of engineering and technology policy and planning to promote the above.

The Program will also recognise the increasing need to develop capacity and apply engineering in emergency and disaster response, relief, prevention and management. Engineering plays a crucial but often under-recognised role in dealing with emergencies, disasters and post-conflict situations. In the short term, engineering-related needs include the immediate provision of food and water, sanitation, shelter, security and emergency health services. These needs are followed in the medium term by reconstruction, broad public health management and putting people back to work. Longer-term needs include broader social and economic development issues and poverty reduction. To facilitate activity in this area the Program will develop linkages with international agencies active in these fields and form partnerships with NGOs such as Engineers Without Borders/Ingénieurs Sans Frontières (EWB/ISF), Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief (REDR) and the World Economic Forums’ – Disaster Relief Network. In this context, an “International Forum on Engineering in Emergencies and Disasters”, is proposed for 2004.

Poverty is often considered economically, but relates primarily to the limited access of poor people to the knowledge and resources with which to address their basic human needs: water supply and sanitation, food production and processing, housing, energy, transportation, communication, income generation and employment creation.

Engineering and technology -appropriate to the context of poor people in terms of the social, economic, educational and knowledge situations- can then enable them to alleviate their own poverty and promote sustainable livelihood development. Poor people are often more exposed to emergencies, natural and man-made disasters, and there is an important role for engineering and technology in emergency and disaster preparedness, mitigation and response.

Program activities will include promoting technology for poverty eradication, improving innovation systems through applied research, development of information and information-sharing and pilot project activity. To assist in the process of initiating interest and activity in this area, an “International Focus on Engineering, Technology and Poverty Eradication” is scheduled for later 2003.

The engineering knowledge and technology currently exists to make significant progress towards meeting basic human needs and advancing more quickly towards sustainable development as outlined in the WSSD and the UN Millennium Development Goals.  It is imperative to apply it now where it is needed the most and can make the most difference. 

Accordingly, the proposed program would address the need for (in addition to the strategy elements mentioned under capacity building in engineering and technology) direct support for the United Nations WEHAB (Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity) objectives articulated at WSSD including:

·               water supply and sanitation;

·               cleaner production and recycling;

·               energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy and clean coal technology;

·               emergencies and disaster preparedness and response, including urban security;

·               post shock and conflict restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction;

·               engaging engineers in decision making, policy making and planning.

Program partnerships will strengthen the capacity of developing countries to address poverty eradication and promote sustainable development, as well as the capacity of UNESCO to assist in this process, through support in such areas as secondment and consultancy services. Program partnerships will be sought with governmental agencies, universities and education institutions, international organizations (UN organizations and international financial institutions), and non-government organizations around the world. Partnerships with engineering educational institutions will include a focus on fellowships for applied research and training. Fellowship visits would take place both in developing and developed country partners – to facilitate understanding of the local situation and needs in both partner contexts. 


Motivated by a renewed interest in engineering and engineering education at UNESCO, at least partially driven by the decision of the United States of America to rejoin UNESCO after an 18 year absence, the Word Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) moved in October 2003 to establish a new Standing Committee on Capacity Building, with the United States as the host of the international organization. The activities of the new Committee will include:

·                                 Providing pathways for the technical and professional societies of the developed world to make their expertise available to engineers in the developing world – including technical publications, conferences, codes of practice, and ethics

·                                 Utilizing state-of-the-art distance learning technology to deliver needed information and interactions to engineers and engineering educators in developing countries

·                                 Strengthening engineering education, both initial and lifelong learning, in developing countries – including making available global best practices in curriculum reform and engineering practice

·                                 Providing an information resource for teaching and learning materials, laboratory equipment, software, etc. for the engineering education needs of developing countries

·                                 Addressing pipeline and diversity issues in providing the needed quality and quantity of engineers for the world’s needs

·                                 Promoting collaborative efforts between institutions in the developed and developing worlds

·                                 Promulgating quality assurance standards and accreditation for engineering education throughout the world, particularly in developing countries

·                                 Developing pathways for engineering volunteers in the developed world to spend time and effort working on capacity building in developing countries – including efforts in times of disaster relief

 This organization and activity continue the thread of the earlier efforts described above, simply stated as: “Teaching developing countries how to fish, instead of sending them fish”.


(1) Jones, Russel C., “International Collaboration in Engineering Education through the UNESCO Steering Committee on Human Resources Development for Technical Industry Stimulation,” Australasian J. of Engng. Educ., 5, 2, pp.141-145, 1994.

(2) Johnson, Gearold R., Hans Peter Jensen, Russel C. Jones, and Marshall M. Lih, “Accomplishments of the International Committee on Engineering Education under the Auspices of UNESCO”, Proceedings, SEFI Annual Meeting, Copenhagen , Denmark , September 2001.

 (3) Jensen, H. P. and Johnson, G. R. (guest editors), Special Edition:  Quality Issues in Engineering Education, Global Journal of Engineering Education, 3, 2, 1999.

(4) Lakhder, L. M., and Johnson, G. R., Establishment of an Arab Satellite University of Science and Technology--ASUST, UNESCO, Paris, France, 1997.


Russel C. Jones is a private consultant, working through World Expertise LLC to offer services in engineering education in the international arena. He previously served as Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers. Prior to that, he had a long career in education: faculty member at MIT, department chair in civil engineering at Ohio State University , dean of engineering at University of Massachusetts , academic vice president at Boston University , and President at University of Delaware .