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Strengthening national capacities for home-grown economic policies through a network of the UNCTAD Virtual Institute

Background:

The project is aimed at addressing the issue of limited national capacities in developing countries, in particular in least developed countries, to access, understand, analyse and apply information about international economic developments and to formulate, negotiate and implement policies that would maximize the benefits of globalization for economic and social development. Particular attention would be given to enhancing the capacity of participating universities to offer courses on international economic and development issues, especially (a) globalization challenges and development strategies, (b) international trade and trade policies, (c) transfer of technology and related investment and intellectual property issues and (d) trade and transport facilitation and the use of ICT for development.

UNCTAD intends to contribute to the building of such national capacities through a systematic programme of technical cooperation with selected universities. This approach stems from the understanding that universities play two key roles, namely (a) their role in building the necessary economic knowledge and expertise through their graduate and post-graduate courses that prepare future and current decision makers and (b) their advisory role vis-à-vis Governments on national and international economic policies. In support of these objectives, UNCTAD launched, at its eleventh session, in São Paulo, Brazil (June 2004), the UNCTAD Virtual Institute on Trade and Development, one of the major forms of multi-stakeholder partnerships endorsed by the Conference (see TD/400).

The Virtual Institute aims to assist universities in enhancing their teaching and research on international economic and development issues by (a) providing access to UNCTAD analytical work, teaching materials and pedagogical tools so that they can adapt relevant UNCTAD resources to their national contexts and integrate them into their regular, hence durable and self-sustaining, training activities and courses and (b) hosting a network that enables universities to share training resources, curriculum development tools and experience with other universities that are members of the Virtual Institute network and to collaborate with them on the development of courses, drawing on the potential for South-South cooperation. In order to facilitate the management, dissemination and sharing of development knowledge and information and the building of virtual communities of practice with and among the universities, the Virtual Institute will use ICT in the form of a website with interactive tools, such as online forums.

The proposed project will be complementary to and build on prior or ongoing activities of other UNCTAD capacity-building programmes and initiatives.

The direct beneficiaries of the project will be 10 to 15 selected members of the Virtual Institute network. Membership is generally for universities that have expertise in course development based on their own research and are committed to exchanging teaching and research materials and experience with other members of the network. Particular attention in the selection of participating universities will also be given to maintaining regional and linguistic balance so as to facilitate sharing and cooperation and to the inclusion of universities from the least developed countries in Africa.

The project will be implemented by UNCTAD in consultation with WTO (Partnerships for Training and Research), the South-South Centre (South-South Portal for Information, Knowledge and Empowerment) and the DiploFoundation. Other relevant organizations and initiatives will be associated as appropriate.

Objectives:

To strengthen the capacity of developing country universities to improve their courses on trade, investment and development issues through the Virtual Institute network.

Expected accomplishments:

  • Improved national capacities (banking and non-banking) and financial intermediation to establish new mechanisms for domestic resource mobilization and investment
  • Mechanisms developed for increasing capital flows from traditional and alternative (non-debt-creating) sources to close the domestic financing gap
  • A definitive policy and strategy devised to accelerate growth through external and domestic resource mobilization, including the incorporation of resource mobilization initiatives into the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers to support efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals

Implementation status:

The project achieved or over-achieved planned objectives and results. Output targets have been met or exceeded. Four generic teaching materials (on Regional Trade Agreements; Trade and Poverty; Trade Data Analysis; and Transfer of Technology) were produced. These materials were adapted in 22 cases (by universities in Argentina, Belarus, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Mauritius, Russian Federation, Senegal, Uganda, Vietnam, West Indies) to local contexts in user countries, as compared with the 10 cases foreseen. Three professional development and networking workshops for Virtual Institute network members were held, compared to the two envisaged. Eight joint projects (4 research projects - comparative studies by universities in India, Mauritius, Colombia, Vietnam, Egypt, Jordan, China and Senegal; 1 teaching material on environmental economics with an international dimension; and 3 course development projects between Canada, Colombia and Mauritius) were completed where "up to ten" were expected. During the implementation of the project, the membership of the Virtual Institute grew from 13 (in 13 countries) to 51 university members (in 31 countries).

The Virtual Institute had a clear measurable impact in terms of:

(a)  The enhancement of teaching and research of policy-relevant trade and development issues at beneficiary universities: the Vi teaching materials were used for course preparation or as background reading in teaching more than 15'000 students.
(b)  The establishment of international research collaborations in the form of joint research projects between universities from different continents, thanks to the Vi's global geographical coverage.
(c)  The strengthening of policy-relevant local research capacity at beneficiary universities through participation in localizations and joint research projects. Localized teaching materials and papers were published and presented to policymakers.
(d)  Increased access to trade-related teaching resources for more than 1'300 academics through the website of the Virtual Institute.
(e)  Laying the grounds for long-term sustainability of the Vi's activities by focusing on the development of local capacity - as opposed to relying on outside expertise - and supporting departments and institutionalized academic programmes - as opposed to individuals.