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US varsity to work with UN to bridge digital divide

Prakash M. Swamy

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 19

GEORGE Mason University in the US became the world's first institution of higher learning to form a volunteer-sending partnership with the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) -- a recent initiative by the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, aimed at bridging the digital divide between the industrialised and developing countries.

The agreement was announced by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) -- the volunteer arm of the UN system, which has been designated as the lead coordinating agency for UNITeS. It calls for having select George Mason graduate students volunteer to help de veloping nations by applying information and communications technologies to development projects.

``We are thrilled that George Mason students will add their communicative energies to the global UNITeS effort in developing countries,'' said the UNV Executive Coordinator, Ms Sharon Capeling-Alakija. Noting that the UN has 189 member States and Virgini a-based George Mason has students from more than 120 countries, she said, ``you couldn't find a better match.''

The University President, Mr Alan G. Merten, also welcomed the initiative, saying his institution ``is very pleased and proud to be associated with this unique project and with the United Nations in a way that will bring needed assistance to many develop ing nations as well as broaden the education of our students,'' a press release was quoted him as saying.

The student volunteers will represent a range of academic disciplines, including conflict resolution, information technology, biotechnology and public policy. During the pilot phase, which begins this summer, George Mason students will take up two-month assignments in countries selected by UNITeS and earn college credit while gaining practical work experience and technical skills.

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