IIEP-UNESCO: History of a pioneering institution

The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) was created in 1963 in Paris, at the initiative of UNESCO. From the outset, it was conceived as an autonomous, learning, multidisciplinary organisation, capable of building bridges between international actors and offering expertise on strategic issues related to education systems. Discover IIEP’s milestones across its 60-year history.

IIEP's first Governing Board meeting in July 1963

IIEP in twelve key dates

Education is recognized as a fundamental right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
UNESCO envisages the creation of an international institute in the field of educational planning
IIEP is officially established, in Paris
Founding seminar on "Major research needs in educational planning”
First annual training programme
The Institute moves to new premises in Paris - and launches its first Medium-Term Strategy
First technical support mission. In response to the rapid development of operational activities at the country level, a dedicated Technical Cooperation unit is created in 1997
The first IIEP website goes online. It develops rapidly and becomes trilingual in 2001, with resources and news in English, French, and Spanish
IIEP Regional Office for Latin America is established in Buenos Aires
Launch of Planipolis: numerous educational plans and policies of UNESCO Member States are centralized on a web platform accessible to all. Other thematic portals will follow, such as the Learning Portal in 2015
IIEP Regional Office for Africa opens in Dakar. Until then, the local team was attached to the UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa (BREDA)
On the eve of its 60th anniversary, IIEP is rethinking educational planning and management to meet the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in its 11th Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2025)

Back to the origins of IIEP

The birth of the International Institute for Educational Planning took place in a context of radical change. At a time when the international community recognized education as a fundamental right of all human beings in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states were becoming aware of the strong link between education and economic growth. In this post-war period, education was beginning to be perceived as a lever for development, in which it is necessary to invest. The 1950s and 1960s were marked by major events – such as European reconstruction and the emergence of new interdependent states – that had a considerable impact on education issues. All of these factors, combined with a sharp increase in public demand for education, led to the birth of a new field of thought: educational planning.

Creation of a specialized and autonomous institute

In June 1962, a UNESCO advisory commission studied the creation of an international institute for research and training in the field of educational planning.

This new institute should:

  • be multidisciplinary,
  • allow experts to work and teach together,
  • allow practitioners to take courses and gain useful experience,
  • be truly autonomous in all respects: statutes, board, programmes, premises, staff, budget, and objectives.

This autonomy was seen, from the outset, as the condition allowing IIEP to "acquire the intellectual stature that is expected of it", in the words of René Maheu, then Director-General of UNESCO. In July 1963, IIEP was officially created, with the World Bank, the Ford Foundation and the French government as its main founding and financial partners. The objectives of this new UNESCO body were to forge links between international institutions concerned with educational planning; to strengthen UNESCO's leading role in education; and to conduct research on new strategic themes.

Of course, planning does not create development, but there can be no development without planning. Moreover, planning is an intellectual discipline that forces governments to think of the present in terms of the future and to think of the future in terms of deliberate choices.

René Maheu, Director-General of UNESCO, first session of the IIEP Governing Board, 1963.


A multi-faceted institute, an integrated approach

From the outset, IIEP's mission has focused on capacity building in UNESCO Member States, and the production of knowledge in educational planning. Following on from its two historical functions of training and research, the Institute has been involved in operational technical cooperation activities since the mid-1990s. This provision of in-country support has continued to expand ever since. Over time, IIEP has also expanded its role as a catalyst, encouraging and facilitating the dissemination of resources and information to Member States.

The building of bridges between training, research and development activities, technical cooperation, and the sharing of resources and knowledge, is not only the identity of the Institute, but also what makes it unique. Even today, IIEP relies on these four complementary pillars, which feed off each other.
Find out more about the institutes of UNESCO's Education Sector

IIEP Research Seminar 1964 in Bellagio, ItalyClass of 1970 of the IIEP Advanced Training Programme
IIEP Research Seminar 1964 in Bellagio, ItalyClass of 1970 of the IIEP Advanced Training Programme
The new IIEP-UNESCO headquarters building, rue Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1973Workshop in the Philippines on institutional management of higher education, 1998
The new IIEP-UNESCO headquarters building, rue Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1973Workshop in the Philippines on institutional management of higher education, 1998


A laboratory of ideas and knowledge

At the forefront of debates on education and major societal trends, IIEP has constantly enriched its thematic expertise over the years.

While access to education was the question at the heart of the Institute's concerns in the 1960s and 1970s in response to the massive expansion of schooling in many low-income countries, the quality of education and the challenges of financing have subsequently become central issues. In addition to primary and secondary education, the Institute quickly took on projects in early childhood education, higher education, and technical and vocational education and training.

Today, adapting educational planning to crisis situations, gender in education, and inclusive education are also among the Institute's priority themes, in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the United Nations' Education 2030 agenda.


Being present where we are needed

The Institute's expansion has also been geographical, through the establishment of two regional offices which are attached to the Paris headquarters from an institutional and administrative point of view. While IIEP's vocation is to work with UNESCO member countries worldwide,  Latin America and Africa can count on the physical presence of teams that are closer to the specific needs of the education systems of the two continents.

The IIEP-UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Faced with profound changes in the education systems of Latin American countries in the 1990s, UNESCO decided to open an IIEP Regional Office in Argentina. When the Buenos Aires office was established in 1998, it focused on the quality of education and the key role of teachers. It then evolved to meet the changing needs of Member States in the region and to help governments reform their education systems. Today, it operates through several training programmes, the monitoring of continental trends in education, as well as technical cooperation, research, and evaluation projects.

Find out more about IIEP-UNESCO in Buenos Aires


The IIEP-UNESCO Regional Office for Africa

Founded in 2001 as a centre of expertise in the field of education policy analysis in Africa, the Dakar Pole was initially attached to the UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa (BREDA), before becoming part of IIEP in October 2013. It intervenes at the request of governments or development aid partners, as part of a global approach to national capacity building. It has gradually expanded its scope of intervention and areas of expertise beyond sector analysis to cover the entire educational planning cycle.

Through its training, technical cooperation and research and development activities, the IIEP Dakar Office contributes to the development and implementation of more effective, realistic and equitable education policies in African countries.

Find out more about IIEP-UNESCO in Dakar


Retrospective: the directors of IIEP-UNESCO since 1963

  • Suzanne Grant Lewis (USA), 2014-2021
  • Khalil Mahshi,(Palestine) 2010-2014
  • Mark Bray (United Kingdom), 2006-2010
  • Gudmund Hernes (Norway), 1999-2006
  • Jacques Hallak (France): 1988-1998
  • Sylvain Lourié (France) 1982-1988
  • Michel Debeauvais (France) 1977-1982
  • Hans N. Weiler (USA) 1974-1977
  • Raymond Poignant (France) 1969-1974
  • Philip H. Coombs (United States), 1963-1968