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University for Peace Aims to Influence

(Part four in a four-part series about the University for Peace.)COMPARED to the past 25 years, theUniversity for Peace is bursting with students.This year it boasts nearly 100.While this may seem like a populationsize more appropriate for a Guanacasteelementary school than an internationallyrecognized university, UPEACE maynever have thousands of students.However, the administration hopesthat within a few years the United Nations charteredinstitution, located west of SanJosé near Ciudad Colón, will have animpact on thousands, if not tens of thousands,of students around the world.A far cry from a typical university,UPEACE will reach an optimal capacityof 250 students in the coming years,according to Vice-Rector George Tsaï (TT,Oct. 1). These 250 students, however, willserve as the testing ground for programsand courses of study to be distributed toUPEACE regional centers and universitiesaround the globe that are interested inpeace studies.THE idea is that students at HarvardUniversity in the United States will haveaccess to the same information as studentsat Siauliu University in Lithuania.By 2006, UPEACE officials hope professorsfrom Africa to Thailand wishing tosupplement their curriculums will have todo nothing more than flip through a portfolioof available-to-order courses such as:Settlement of Disputes with Respect toHuman Force; Demographic Change,Migration and Conflict; and InfectiousDisease to Toxic Pollutants: Health andEnvironmental Security.“In the long run, it is the most importantthing the university will do,” saidUPEACE Rector Martin Lees. “It means itbecomes possible for universities acrossthe developing world who do not have atthis moment the content or the capacity toteach, to suddenly start teaching in allthese fields.”According to the plan, UPEACE professorswill record the essence of their lectureson video. These eight-hour DVDswill be distributed with course materials,multimedia access to United Nationsarchives and supplementary information.HOWEVER, Lees is careful to pointout that course packages will not just be“parachuted in” to developing countries.Through UPEACE regional centers inAfrica, Central Asia, Latin America,Europe, and, soon, Canada, the universitywill include case studies, methodologiesand ideas from the regions and countriesusing the courses.“It is crucial that it is not just our ideasin Costa Rica, but that it reflects the needsand values of the recipient country,” Leessaid.UPEACE has already started producingsome materials for two “disseminationand sharing of knowledge” courses inpeace and conflict studies, which will beavailable for distribution by September2005. The goal is to have 12 courses availableby 2006 and eventually offer fullmaster’s programs. Ultimately the courseswill also be available for study over theInternet, Lees said.“THE demand is infinite; it is terrifying.People want this stuff yesterday,because they need to teach it. Young peoplesee the environment being destroyed,they see conflict, they see human rightsbeing ignored. They want to work on this,but they can’t get educated in their owncountries, because the universities don’thave the capacity,” Lees said.The dissemination courses will have ayet-to-be determined cost for use by interesteduniversities. However, for manyinstitutions in developing countries, theywill be discounted up to 95%, according toUPEACE officials.WITH its eyes on the future,UPEACE also continues to expand itsmaster’s programs in Costa Rica and inJanuary 2005 plans to offer seven threeweekshort courses, according to its Website, In September2005, the university hopes to add a master’sin environmental security and peace.“The environment is going to be a bigdriver of conflict this century. Very simply,we are going to have roughly another 3billion people living on the planet by2050, and nobody seems to care aboutthat,” Lees said. “This is in addition to the6 billion or so today, and the environmentis already in deep trouble because of allthe pressures.”Nearly all of this population increasewill come from developing countries, hesaid, as populations in most developednations are decreasing. Therefore agriculturaldependence on water – suspected tobe the source of much future conflict – isof great concern, Lees added.“In Africa the land is very fragile, andwith global warming – which we don’teven need to debate – some areas of theworld, where people have lived for millennia,have suddenly become uninhabitable,”he said.UPEACE aims to educate and mobilizepeople to create programs to confrontthis reality.“We cannot rely on internationalexperts from the North, we have to havepeople from the South, educated in theSouth. Our job is to produce a new generationwho can understand and managethese programs,” Lees said.This master’s program will likely partnerwith a Canadian University, much likethe master’s in Natural Resources andSustainable Development, which partnerswith American University in WashingtonD.C. Students alternate semesters at eachinstitution.UPEACE has received much supportfrom Canada. A $3 million donationhelped the school in its transition yearsfrom 1999 to 2001 under CanadianMaurice Strong, U.N. Under-SecretaryGeneral and president of the UPEACECouncil (TT, Oct. 8).THE Canadian government earlierthis year announced another $3.3 milliondonation to bring a UPEACE to Canada.While Costa Rica will remain theUPEACE headquarters, according to Tsaï,a UPEACE center could open in Canadaas soon as next year.In the long term, a UPEACE campuscould be part of a massive project to revitalize2,000 acres on the shores of LakeOntario (TT, June 11).In addition to Canada, UPEACE hasreceived financial assistance fromSweden, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark,Germany and Italy, Lees said.Because UPEACE’s budget will neverbe tuition based, the school will always bedependent on donations, as it is now, Leesadded.The school’s budget in 2003 was $6.4million, $4.6 million of which was investedin the Costa Rica UPEACE headquarters.The remaining funds are directed tothe institution’s regional programs.ANNUAL tuition for the university is$18,000. Many students receive financialaid, some subsidized through the university’snormal budget and others through aspecial scholarship fund. Even if all of the100 students paid full tuition, the schoolwould still be far from its operational budget.The three-week courses cost $2,500.UPEACE critics say in order to be sustainable,the school’s budget should bemore based on tuition (TT, Oct. 15).But Lees says sustainability will comethrough seeking donations from sourcesother that governments, something possiblenow that the school is more stableunder its new administration.“In the long run, we need more stableand predictable funding on a more substantialscale, which implies working withfoundations and other sources,” he said.According to the UPEACE Directorof Finance, Milenia Romero, 49% of theCosta Rican budget in 2003 was spent onpersonnel, or approximately $2.3 million.UPEACE has a total full-time staffof 96. Fourteen members of its staff havesalaries of more than $50,000 a year,according to Tsaï.The next-highest Costa Rican budgetitem is for consultants, at 14.5%, whichincludes visiting professors, who can makeup to $300 a day, according to Romero.FOR International Peace and ConflictStudies student Rafael Velásquez, thevalue of the professors is beyond a dollarfigure.“As far as understanding internationalconflicts, the greatest aspect of UPEACEis its role as a multicultural, multidisciplinarycenter of study,” he said. “Unlikemany universities where you will onlyhear the side of whatever discipline youhappen to study, at UPEACE you hear thebusiness guys, the political scientists, thehistorians, the information-technologypeople – all of whom come from differentcountries and cultures.”UPEACE founder Robert Muller –known by U.N. colleagues as a dreamerand a prophet of hope (TT, Oct. 8) – sharesVelásquez’s enthusiasm, when asked aboutthe future of UPEACE.“I make a prediction that it will be oneof the greatest universities on earth, theUniversity for Peace,” he said.


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