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Critical stats: The UNESCO Institute for Statistics opens its doors in Montreal. (Global View).

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, recently opened the offices of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on the Universite de Montreal campus. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics is the UN depository for global statistics in the fields of education, science, culture and communication. Created to strengthen UNESCO's statistical program, the Institute develops and disseminates recent, reliable and relevant data, to promote informed decision-making by Member States.

The decision to establish the UIS in Montreal followed a rigorous selection process in which UNESCO had to choose between four candidate cities: Montreal, Birmingham (United Kingdom), The Hague (Netherlands) and Paris (France). British statistician Denise Lievesley was named director of the UIS.

"The richness of its professional network and the quality of the technical support to which the Institute has access were instrumental in the choice of Montreal," Lievesley says. Indeed, Montreal was the city that best met the three objectives of the UIS: to ensure the quality of the data, the validity of the analysis and the efficient evaluation of programs; to improve the capacities of Member States to collect and analyze data; and to offer its staff and their families a dynamic and hospitable environment.

"The Institute aims to ensure that policy making is informed by evidence," Lievesley explains. She believes that the monitoring of policy implementation has to be based on reliable and current statistics.

The UIS compiles, analyzes and publishes national statistics in the fields of education, science and technology, culture and communication. Its education statistics comprise preschool, primary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as the financing of education. Literacy and gender disparity indicators are a high priority, as are statistics that tabulate the number of children not attending school. Science and technology statistics cover national research and development (R&D), human resources and spending. Culture and communication data focus on book production, broadcasting, magazines and cultural goods, films and cinemas, libraries, museums and the press.

"Citizens of countries like Canada often take for granted the role that reliable statistical data play in the governmental decisions that affect their daily lives," says Koichiro Matsuura. He notes that they can hardly envisage the situation that prevails in many developing countries, where objective and relevant data are virtually non-existent. One of the essential goals of the UIS is to help governments and decision-makers develop their own capacities to collect the statistical information that will help them formulate policies that truly respond to the needs of their citizens and ensure that such policies are effectively implemented. Matsuura adds that at a time when cultural diversity is a key issue in a growing number of national and international forums, the Institute is also called upon to play a leading role in the area of cultural statistics.

"The arrival on our campus of a partner as prestigious as the UIS enhances the position of the Universite de Montreal as an established centre of statistical excellence," declares Robert Lacroix, rector of the Universite de Montreal. According to Lacroix, researchers in Quebec and Canada in general have a long tradition of excellence and independence in the field of social statistics and are recognized worldwide as leaders in their field.

Lievesley acknowledges that the UIS depends on the quality of national data when gathering international statistics, but notes that the organization will work with countries to develop appropriate methodologies to improve the quality of their statistics. "There is no absolute quality threshold for statistics: the quality required depends on how data is to be used," she says.

According to Lievesley, obtaining reliable statistics is a problem in many parts of the world, not just in developing countries. She says that the UIS will provide training for statisticians from Member States, together with support to develop and implement statistical plans, and insists it is crucial that the work of the 1315 help raise awareness of the importance of statistics.

"Statistics are crucial to accountability and I believe in educating and encouraging the public to require information as part of good governance," insists Lievesley, whose organization works closely with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the United Nations and other international institutions.

The UIS was created by the General Conference, UNESCO's ruling body, in November 2000, to "provide statistical information on education, science, culture and communication, which helps decision-making in Member States and facilitates democratic debate in UNESCO's areas of competence."

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics employs 40 locally and internationally recruited people in Montreal, four in Paris and three experts specializing in capacity-building based in Harare (Zimbabwe) and Dakar (Senegal). Its budget for two years, financed by UNESCO, is USD 7.3 million, to which is added another USD 4.5 million from other sources. The governments of Canada and Quebec will contribute to its operational costs through grants of CAD 7.2 million and CAD 3.3 million respectively over ten years.

"We are especially proud to celebrate this inauguration because Montreal International led Montreal's bid to host the UIS from the very beginning, at the request of the three levels of government," states Jacques Girard, president and CEO of Montreal International, a private non-profit organization devoted to promoting and facilitating the establishment of foreign firms and international organizations in the region. As host to international organizations, Montreal ranks first in Canada and third in North America. Girard is convinced that the Institute will find all the support it needs in Montreal to perform the important work entrusted to it.

The establishment of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics will make Montreal the world capital of social statistics and, over the first decade, generate economic spin-offs of CAD $8 to $10 million annually. For Quebec's universities, the presence of the UIS will also help promote a high quality of statistical research while developing new partnerships. "This decision not only confirms our place in the international statistical research network, but also considerably strengthens it," affirms Patrick Robert, vice-rector, public affairs and development at the Universite de Montreal.

Julie Demers (jdemers@managementmag.com) is associate editor of CMA Management magazine.
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Author:Demers, Julie
Publication:CMA Management
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2002
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