New Unesco Chief Pledges 'Radical' Steps to Reform Beleaguered Organization



Koichiro Matsuura, the newly elected director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, has promised to make radical reforms in the institution's operations. His pledge comes in the face of growing criticism of widespread inefficiency and a declining leadership role for Unesco in some of its core areas of activity, such as education.

The nomination of Mr. Matsuura, who previously was Japan's Ambassador to France, was approved by the General Conference of Unesco members on November 12. In an inauspicious start to his six-year term, he had to fend off allegations in the European press that he and his government had engaged in vote-buying to secure his nomination.

Although Unesco's sponsorship of the first World Conference on Higher Education, in Paris last year, led many observers to assume the organization was seeking to play a larger role in postsecondary education, Mr. Matsuura, in his inaugural address, said he would give priority to basic education. Of Unesco's $544-million annual budget, only about one-fifth is now spent on education. By comparison, the World Bank lends more than $2-billion annually for education.

An independent Canadian audit, presented to Unesco's 178 member countries last month, found that the organization's "professional capacity and expertise in education policy development ... has gradually declined" over the past decade. The report said international organizations often bypass Unesco when planning projects.

The audit found that Unesco had fallen behind largely due to budget and staff cuts dating from the mid-1980s, when the United States and Britain pulled out of the organization over questions of leadership and the free flow of information. Britain rejoined in July 1997. But the audit said Unesco's problems were not only due to stagnating expenditures. It faulted the organization for its inability to answer such fundamental questions as whether its programs were serving the right purpose, or what criteria had been used in decisions to continue or end programs.

Shahid Minto, the assistant auditor general of Canada, said Unesco had to learn to measure results. Unesco officials have "always shown how much they have spent on a program," he said. "What they need to do now is show what was actually learned in a given program. They need a scorecard."

Georges Haddad, a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Paris I and president of Unesco's advisory board on higher education, acknowledged that evaluations of Unesco programs have been sketchy. "For example, there are 400 Unesco-sponsored chairs throughout the world," he said, "and we have no way of knowing what they do. As a scientist, I can't say that Unesco's evaluation system is really evaluation. It's all done in an informal way."

Policy makers and staff members in the organization admit that Unesco lags in using new, measurable management techniques. But Francoise Riviere, the new executive director of Unesco programs, said the organization's areas of activity make it difficult to evaluate results.

"When Unesco sets a goal to better the contents of school programs in a given country," she asked, "how do you measure that? The contents of programs may change, but can you say they are better? And, even if they are, how do you quantify Unesco's part in it?"

While Mr. Matsuura has promised to explore what he called "radical hypotheses" for changing Unesco's programs over the next year, he said he had already begun to deal with what many perceive to be the most pressing problems facing Unesco: staff inefficiency, a top-heavy bureaucracy, and a chaotic system of promotions and appointments.

The audit concluded that the administration of the former director general, Federico Mayor, was beset by excessive spending on top-level posts, which limited the organization's ability to hire highly qualified professionals for specific projects.

The audit noted that 40 per cent of job searches for professionals at Unesco in a two-year period were not competitive at all. Unesco staff members, it added, were not evaluated on performance.

In his first public comments, the new director general outlined what he felt must be done to improve the organization. He said the management staff must be reduced, and he already has requested the resignations of the senior special advisers.

According to Koichi Kawakami, an official at the Japanese Embassy in Paris, Mr. Matsuura will use his planned reforms as one argument in trying to persuade the United States to rejoin the organization.

Mr. Haddad, the mathematician, said the organization would take a leadership role in education only if it could act as a catalyst. And it could do that only "by bringing in new and younger people."

"Unesco is not a university," Mr. Haddad said. "Its job is not to do research or to teach. If it wants to be credible in the 21st century, what it has to do is be able to solicit investment and generate partnerships with business or non-governmental organizations."