Linking universities and bioshpere reserves: creating a global bio-medical & society living laboratory.

Author:Peine, John D.


The richness of opportunities for research and instruction inherent in the Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (MAB) reserve is duplicated in varying degrees in each of the 425 MAB UNESCO Biosphere Reserves around the world. The challenge is to formulate and test pedagogical models which will best utilize these rich resources for on-line teaching, research and policy development. The Global University System (GUS) has proposed as part of its future program the linking of several selected, paired universities and biosphere reserves to serve as demonstrations of how best to realize the enormous potential for web-based environmental learning presented by the MAB Network and the GUS.


Through the emerging sophistication and transportability of information technology, an extraordinary opportunity now exists to link faculty and students from major universities to the international network of biosphere reserves, creating a global living laboratory. The UNESCO-MAB global network of biosphere reserves and the emerging Global University System network can provide the institutional framework to realize this extraordinary opportunity.

UNESCO Man And the Biosphere Program (MAB) The Biosphere Network

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Its headquarters is in Paris and its work is done through 73 field offices. UNESCO was created in 1946 and currently has 188 member states. UNESCO promotes collaboration among nations in education, science, culture, and communications. Among its key work areas are expanding educational opportunities, protecting world heritage sites, developing a global network of protected biosphere reserves, developing reliable world scientific standards and statistics, and promoting freedom of expression and human rights (

The Man And Biosphere program was launched by UNESCO in 1970 to facilitate intergovernmental cooperation in fostering harmonious relations between humans and the biosphere ( MAB was the first deliberate international initiative to find ways to achieve sustainable development. The Program's broad goal is "to develop the basis within the natural and social sciences for rational use and conservation of the resources of the biosphere and for the improvement of the global relationship between man and the environment: to predict the consequences of today's actions on tomorrow's world and thereby to increase man's ability to manage efficiently the natural resources of the biosphere" (UNESCO 1971). This Program created the mechanism to establish an international network of biosphere reserves representing major biogeographical regions, including gradations of human interventions. Three basic functions of biosphere reserves are as follows:

* To contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variations.

* To foster ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable development.

* To provide logistical support for environmental education, training, demonstration projects, monitoring and research related to local, regional, national and global issues of conservation and sustainable development.

It is the third function to which this chapter is directed. The biosphere reserves must include a core-protected area of sufficient size and configuration to achieve the above objectives. The core area provides important opportunities for conservation, long-term observational studies and environmental education and serves as a regional benchmark of ecological health. In addition, buffer zones are defined that typically adjoin or surround core areas to demonstrate sustainable development practices. As of May 2002, there are 425 international biosphere reserves in 95 countries. These reserves occur on every continent and in a wide variety of biogeographic regions. The social-cultural-economic setting varies dramatically as does the human imprint on the biosphere reserves. (

The Global University System (GUS)

The Global University System (GUS), now under development and based in Tampere, Finland, can provide one means by which Man and Biosphere Reserves can be utilized as a resource for environmental education and scientific exchange. Prof. Tapio Varis, UNESCO Chair in Global e-Learning at the University of Tampere, Finland, and President of the Global University System has described the GUS as follows:

The Global University System is a network of networks formed in particular by higher education institutions, but also by other organizations sharing the same objectives of developing a co-operation based on solidarity and partnership aimed at:

* improving the global learning and wellness environment for people in the global knowledge society, where the global responsibility is shared by all;

* sharing and exchanging knowledge among the sectors of education-related research, industry and trade;

* giving priority to actions improving learning and healthcare world-wide;

* harnessing the technologies of broadband Internet connectivity among institutions of higher learning in the developing countries, in order to provide learners of all ages access to global e-learning across national and cultural boundaries;

* fostering youngsters around the world in a creative competition for relevance and excellence through affordable and accessible broadband Internet;

* supporting systems that complement the traditional institutions of learning and healthcare by using conventional methods together with advanced electronic media;

* improving learning and health of the disadvantaged by increasing their access through the utilization of new technologies, basing its long-term orientations on societal aims and needs and reinforcing the role of service to the whole society.

GUS has group activities in the major regions of the globe, i.e., Asia-Pacific, North, Central and South Americas, Europe, and Africa to establish pilot projects. Each of these regional groups, with partnerships of higher learning and healthcare institutions, will foster the establishment of GUS in their respective regions, with the use of an advanced global broadband Internet virtual private network. They will then become the GUS counterparts of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking program. The GUS at the University of Tampere, Finland is the headquarters Chair of the GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Program.

This project of helping establish CampusNet and Community Development Networks in Amazon region with the Japanese government's funds is the forerunner of this approach of GUS. Namely, the GUS will combine the Japanese funds and electronic equipment and hardware with the expertise of telecom and content development of North America to help closing the digital divide in developing countries. GUS will emulate this approach in other developing countries around the world in the future, e.g., Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, etc., from which GUS has already received preliminary inquiries and requests.

The mission of our Global University System program is not the mere enhancement of job skills with e-learning, but the creation of youngsters for the world peace for the eradication of borderless terrorism by reduction of poverty through the use of advanced Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in remote/rural areas around the world.

When broadband Internet will be available and interconnect member schools of our GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Program, we can expect the following:

* Coalition member universities will be able to build the network of facilitators for support of e-learners,

* Learners may take one course from a university of different country, in Japan, Canada, Brazil, Finland, etc., to get his/her degree from the GUS, thus freeing them from being confined with one philosophy of a university,

* The broadband Internet will enable web-based teaching with more interaction among/between learners and instructors compared with less interaction in replicating class-room teaching via satellite--thus stimulating global dialogues among them to attain world peace,

* Learners and faculties at the member universities can promote exchange of ideas, information, knowledge and joint research and development of web-based teaching materials, community development, and many others locally, regionally and even on global scale,

* Researchers in even developing countries can perform joint collaborative Hi-Tech research and development on various subjects, e.g., Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming, micro-biology, meteorology, chemical molecular study, DNA analysis, 3D human anatomy, design of space shuttle (a NASA project for training high school students around the world), etc.

In a sense, the GUS/UNESCO/UNITWIN Networking Chair program is to construct global scale knowledge forum with advanced ICT, e.g., with the use of massive parallel processors of globally distributed and yet interconnected mini-supercomputers around the world through Global Broadband Internet (GBI) of the global neural computer network [not equal to] see Section XVI-B in; AS/Manaus Workshop/Tinker Foundation/Application Form/Tinker_Proposal_Web/Full_Prop osal.html (Varis, 2002).

The GUS is thus well positioned to assist in fostering university ties to biosphere reserves for the purpose of scientific exchanges and environmental education at graduate and undergraduate levels. When wireless broadband becomes available, biosphere reserves may be paired with university centers and linked to research centers worldwide. The GUS has, for example, been actively working with universities in Amazonas, Brazil, Finland, Malawi, The Philippines, Uganda, Ukraine, and Tennessee in the United States, to name a few. In each of these countries or states there are registered MAB sites that could be linked to research universities in-country and with research centers around...

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