Engineering at UNESCO
Engineering has always had an essential role in achieving the mandates and global priorities of UNESCO. In fact, UNESCO was established during a conference from 1 to 16 November 1945 at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London, UK, the oldest engineering institution in the world. According to the Conference for the Establishment of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, one of UNESCO’s first transitory responsibilities was:
To aid in the reconstruction, on an emergency basis, of buildings and structures used for educational purposes; and to help in the supply of scientific, technical and engineering equipment designed to assist training or retraining and to facilitate relief and rehabilitation projects (p.152)
In the early years of the Organization, engineering was the largest activity, in regards to personnel and budgetary resources, in the Natural Science Sector. During this time the focus of the programme was on engineering education through human and institutional capacity-building projects. But with the rise of the environmental sciences, in the 1980s, the engineering programme budget was reduced and there was a realignment of priorities focusing on renewable energies.
Since the creation of the UNESCO Engineering Initiative (UEI), in 2011, there has been a revival in engineering at UNESCO. Today, UNESCO continues to support engineering education through its human and institutional capacity-building projects. It also continues to focus on gender issues in the engineering sector, as a part of UNESCO’s global priorities. But, the UEI has also broadened its focus through promoting awareness of sustainable engineering and renewable and alternative technologies. It now focuses on increasing awareness of the important role of engineers in socio-economic development, particularly in Africa, again supporting UNESCO’s global priorities. These continuities and discontinuities show how the engineering programme has evolved and been shaped by UNESCO’s priorities.