It was UNESCO’s commitment to post-war Germany, expressed during its 5th General Conference held in Florence in June 1950, which led to the creation of the UNESCO Institute for Education (UIE), along with two other Institutes for Youth and Social Sciences, neither of which exist anymore. UIE was intended as a vehicle to promote human rights and international understanding. The first meeting of the Governing Board was held from 17 to 19 June 1951 in Wiesbaden, Germany, and was attended by Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget. During that meeting, the Governing Board members drafted the statutes and appointed Professor Walter Merck, Chair of Comparative Education at the University of Hamburg, as Director.
In its early years, UIE’s work covered a wide range of topics, from pre-school to adult education, and from formal to non-formal education. However, the Institute’s very first international seminar, “adult education as a means of developing and strengthening social and political responsibility”, already signalled its core task – adult education. In its early years the UIE contributed greatly to international understanding among nations and people who had few opportunities to meet and exchange with each other. The forerunner of all international achievement studies, the “International Evaluation of Educational Achievement” (IEA), was carried out at UIE between 1959 and 1961.
Whereas the first 13 years of UIE’s work focused on Europe, the Institute redirected its efforts to the developing countries, following a decision by the UNESCO General Conference in 1965, which decided that UIE’s Governing Board should include representatives from all world regions. This shift became fully operational in the 1980s when UIE launched its global activities on post-literacy and continuing education.
In 1972, with the publication of the “Faure report”, Learning to be, lifelong education became the focus of the Institute’s work and publications on the concept, content and evaluation of lifelong education were brought out in the landmark series “Advances in Lifelong Education”. UIE was the first institution to address literacy and functional illiteracy in industrialized countries.
The conceptualization and organization of the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V), held in Hamburg in 1997, was a UIE high-point. CONFINTEA V marked a turning-point in the global recognition of and commitment to adult learning and non-formal education. CONFINTEA VI, held in Brazil in 2009, built on this holistic understanding of adult learning and non-formal education within a life-wide and lifelong learning perspective and agreed on concrete measures in order to translate this vision into action.
In 2007, the Institute was transformed from a foundation under German civil law into a fully-fledged international UNESCO Institute. A Host Country Agreement was negotiated between the German government, UNESCO and the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, where the Institute had been based since 1951. The City now provides the Institute with premises at the historic Albert Ballin villa in Feldbrunnenstrasse. The change of legal status was preceded by a name change to UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in 2006, reflecting the Institute's long-standing focus on adult learning as well as out-of-school and non-formal education within a lifelong learning perspective.
Since June 2011, Arne Carlsen from Denmark is Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, succeeding Adama Ouane from Mali, who was Director from 2000 to 2011. Previous Directors of UIE were Walther Merck, Germany (1951-1955); Alv G. St. Langeland, Norway (1955 to 1958); Hans Wenke, Germany (1958 to 1959); Saul B. Robinsohn, Germany/Israel (1959 to 1963); Gustaf Ögren, Sweden (1964 to 1967); Tetsuya Kobayashi, Japan (1968 to 1972); Dino Carelli, Argentina (1972 to 1979); Ravindra Dave, India (1979 to 1989) and Paul Bélanger, Canada (1989 to 1999).
UIL is one of six UNESCO Education Institutes. It promotes lifelong learning policy and practice, with a focus on adult education, literacy and non-formal education. It publishes the oldest international journal of comparative education, the International Review of Education.