18 June 2003


NEW YORK, 17 June (UN Headquarters) -- This is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the ceremony launching the “Global Virtual University” delivered by Hans van Ginkel, Rector, United Nations University, in Arendal, Norway, today:

In the Millennium Declaration adopted at the Millennium Summit in 2000 -- a blueprint for building a better world in the twenty-first century -- the world’s leaders committed themselves to ensuring that the benefits of the new information and communications technologies are available to all the world’s people.

Nowhere is that mission more important than in the realm of higher education.  Universities in developed countries have been taking ever-greater advantage of information technologies through online learning programmes and other “virtual” efforts.  Indeed, an explosion in the free flow of information and ideas is bringing knowledge and its myriad applications to many millions of people, creating new opportunities in some of the most vital areas of human endeavour.  It is time for that experience and expertise to reach educational institutions in the developing world, and for those institutions to be able to share theirs with counterparts in developed countries.  An information society has emerged, and the developing world must be a full partner in it.

The Global Virtual University under the auspices of the United Nations University and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a fine example of building digital bridges in an area of crucial importance to human security and prosperity:  environmentally sustainable development.  As such, it can make an important contribution to efforts to achieve the objectives set out at last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.  It also offers the prospect of constructive international cooperation, not only between rich and poor countries but also within the developing world.  I am pleased to know that African universities from Ghana, Uganda and South Africa are among the participants.

I thank the Government and people of Norway for hosting this initiative, and all others involved in making it possible.  In particular, UNEP GRID-Arendal has played a key role in bringing the participants together.  Let us all now work together and do our utmost to ensure that this invaluable tool succeeds in its efforts to promote education, protect the environment, and shape a more sustainable future for our world.

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