Becoming an International Sustainability Talent Development Hub ~ Education and Research Project Selected UNESCO Chair

Takashi Okada
Vice President for Academic Research Affairs
Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Human Sciences

In February 2024, a Sophia University research project was appointed UNESCO Chair, a program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the exchange of knowledge worldwide. Vice President for Academic Research Affairs, Takashi Okada, expands on Sophia University’s role following this selection, its resulting memorandum of understanding, and how those currently at Sophia will benefit.

Education and research to help develop talent that can contribute to the SDGs

The Sophia research project selected by UNESCO is based on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). ESD is education to nurture the “builders of a sustainable society” who see the problems facing modern society as their own resulting from the population’s development and seek to solve problems first in their own communities. ESD is a concept that Japan proposed in 2002, more than 10 years before SDGs were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, and has spread worldwide to now be an essential part of achieving the SDGs.

Sophia University selected Department of Education, Faculty of Human Sciences Professor Miki Sugimura and her team’s “Comparative and International education project on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Asia” as a “priority research area,” aiming to foster research unique to Sophia. Professor Sugimura and her team have conducted ESD research in elementary and secondary schools in Japan and Asia, and comparative research on systems and policies. The UNESCO Chair on Education for Human Dignity, Peace and Sustainability is an extension of Professor Sugimura and her colleagues’ research and will progress in cooperation with UNESCO.

Projects unique to an outstanding global university

UNESCO Chairs are recognized by UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations for the promotion of education, science, and culture. The title of UNESCO Chair is open to outstanding projects established by universities and other higher education institutions that contribute to solving global issues. Applications to become a UNESCO chair are accepted once a year, and since 1992, 954 projects have been adopted worldwide (as of June 2023).

Selection as UNESCO Chair can attract attention to educational and research projects as a result of being recognized by international organizations, increase the university’s presence, expand academic exchanges with domestic and international research institutions, and have a positive ripple effect on other research within the university.

As for the UNSECO Chair, focus is paid to the quality and scale of collaboration, and the type of partner institutions being engaged to help solve the problem. Based on Sophia University’s ties to the United Nations, the Jesuit network, and the relationships each researcher has built with research institutions in various countries, Professor Sugimura and her team decided to partner with eight institutions, including the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College and the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Studies for Sustainability. (UNU-IAS). In the spring of 2023, Sophia University applied to be a UNESCO Chair and received notice of its acceptance in the fall of the same year. With Sophia University now a UNESCO Chair, the number of Japanese universities among UNESCO Chairs stands at 12; Sophia is the second private university in Japan to hold such a status.

Opportunities to experience world-renowned projects

To further develop Sophia’s priority research areas, we are currently discussing with partner organizations how we can continue to work as a UNESCO Chair to solve issues through ESD practice and evaluation on a global scale, including in regions outside of Asia.


We will also launch a website that will serve as a platform for ESD research. This will not only be a place where activities and results from the project are reported, but also a place where ESD researchers and practitioners from around the world can contribute to good practices in ESD. We hope it will also be a useful reference for teachers at elementary, junior high, and senior high schools in Japan.

For students, the UNSECO Chair represents a chance to learn front-line knowledge from prominent researchers. While the core discipline of this project is education, we can expect cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary activities to increase as capacity for activity increases and participating faculty come and go.

In addition to the Department of Education in the Faculty of Human Sciences, various faculties and departments, including the English-taught “SPSF” program (Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures: an undergraduate program in which six departments collaborate to think about a sustainable future), will have opportunities to be involved in projects recognized by international organizations.

Additionally, in collaborative learning with international students through COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning; a form of online classes where students from universities in two or more countries engage in problem-solving learning), there is now a possibility that partner universities involved in this project will become counterparts.

UNESCO has been internationally implementing ESD with “ESD for 2030” as a key to realizing the SDGs, where Japan has been playing a leading role. The new curriculum guidelines that have recently been implemented, from elementary school to high school, also call for the development of “builders of a sustainable society.” As a UNESCO Chair, Sophia University will attract more expectations and attention as a research hub in an advanced ESD country.

  We hope that those involved will share the latest updates to their ESD research through our website, and that students and faculty will experience firsthand the process of creating an international research center and the dynamism that comes with the global expansion of academic studies.

Sophia University

For Others, With Others