people walking arial view

UNESCO Global Network of Learning cities

The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities is an international policy-oriented network providing inspiration, know-how and best practice.
Learning Cities

power lifelong learning for their citizens.

76 countries
host UNESCO learning cities

which boost international collaboration.

> 250 million
inhabitants of UNESCO learning cities

benefit from learning opportunities across the lifespan.

By 2030,
the global community seeks to

provide lifelong learning opportunities for all and make cities sustainable.

Image features a woman and an older man looking at a laptop. A woman and baby are in the background.

 UNESCO learning cities

  • effectively mobilizes its resources in every sector to promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education;
  • revitalizes learning in families and communities;
  • facilitates learning for and in the workplace;
  • extends the use of modern learning technologies;
  • enhances quality and excellence in learning; and
  • fosters a culture of learning throughout life.

In doing so, the city enhances individual empowerment and social inclusion, economic development and cultural prosperity, and sustainable development.

Image features solar panels, greenspace, and skyscrapers in the background.

The GNLC network supports the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 4 (‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’) and SDG 11 (‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’). Learning cities promote green and healthy environments, strive to achieve equity and inclusion, and support decent work and entrepreneurship. They are therefore key drivers of local-level sustainability in both urban and rural areas. 

Sustainable Development Goals icons
We need to create a cultural climate that allows lifelong learning for everyone in the world.
Ban Ki Moon Former United Nations Secretary-General
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Huejotzingo, Mexico

By placing lifelong learning at the centre of its development, Huejotzingo has transformed itself from an agricultural community to the industrial heart of the Mexican state of Puebla.

Mexico: Huejotzingo view of city and volcano
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Jubail Industrial City, Saudi Arabia

As the world’s largest petrochemical industrial city, Jubail Industrial City must further promote sustainable industrial production by ensuring that its population is equipped with comprehensive knowledge and skills. 

Image features a small ampitheatre on the coast of Jubail Industrial City, Saudi Arabia
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Wyndham, Australia

Lifelong learning in Wyndham is implemented by a broad network of stakeholders, ranging from the city administration to learning institutions, the private sector and the general public, among others.

Image features the Werribee River in Wyndham, Australia.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Damietta, Egypt

Through lifelong learning, Damietta seeks to promote sustainable development, advance basic skills among adults, and improve public health for a population of over 330,000.

Image features a panorama of the harbour and city of Damietta, Egypt.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Clermont-Ferrand, France

Lifelong learning informs all of Clermont-Ferrand's public policies.

Image features buildings and streets in France: Clermont-Ferrand.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Dublin, Ireland

Investing in human capital is crucial to Dublin’s successful development, and lifelong learning is key to this endeavour. 

Image features a busy street in Dublin, UK.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Osan, Republic of Korea

Osan’s objective is to serve as a place ‘where citizens and learning are united’.

Image features the skyline of Osan, Republic of Korea
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

Shanghai has always been committed at a high level to the learning city concept.

Image features skyscrapers in Shanghai.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Al Wakra, Qatar

Al Wakra has evolved into one of the largest cities in Qatar with over 80,000 inhabitants. 

Image features a street in Al Wakra, Qatar.
UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities Awardee: Belfast, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The city of Belfast uses learning to tackle inequalities and improve quality of life for all of its citizens.

Image features the city of Belfast at night.

How did the project evolve?

In 2013, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning initiated the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities in order to facilitate social cohesion, economic development and sustainability in urban areas. In 2013, the first International Conference on Learning Cities adopted the Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities and the Key Features of Learning Cities, which are the network’s guiding documents. In 2015, the network began accepting members; since then, it has evolved into a driving force for the promotion of lifelong learning as a means of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the local level.  

New membership regulations have recently been introduced; namely:

  • The National Commission for UNESCO can endorse applications to join UNESCO GNLC from up to three cities per application period.
  • One open call for applications is issued every two years for an application period of two months during which time cities may submit their membership applications to their National Commission for UNESCO. After this application period has ended, the National Commission for UNESCO has up to one month to send endorsed applications to the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team. The next open application round will be in autumn 2023.
  • Member cities are requested to submit a Progress Report detailing how they are implementing their learning city project every two years.
Image features people sitting on a hill in a park

Who can apply?

Key players and/or authorities from a city located in a UNESCO Member State that wishes to adopt the learning city concept may apply for membership. An application may only be submitted once it has been formally endorsed by the city’s mayor.

Who is the member?

The member is the city itself, represented by the mayor and/or the person who has been formally endorsed as a representative of the city. All endorsed representatives act as delegates of the city.

What are the requirements for becoming a member?

In order to join the network, the municipality should pursue the vision of providing lifelong learning and becoming a learning city, in the spirit of the values and objectives guiding UNESCO in pursuit of dialogue and international cooperation.

The strategies set out in the key documents, the Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities and the Key Features of Learning Cities, must be reflected in the membership application and adopted by the mayor of the city, who needs to endorse the membership application. The city needs to complete the membership application form and submit it to the responsible National Commission for UNESCO for endorsement. In addition to this, members are required to submit a Progress Report on their learning city project every two years to the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team.

Learn more

From emergency to resilience: building healthy and resilient cities through learning; fifth International Conference on Learning Cities, Yeonsu, Republic of Korea, 27 to 30 October 2021: conference report
Snapshots of learning cities’ responses to COVID-19
How cities are utilizing the power of non-formal and informal learning to respond to the COVID-19 crisis

The UNESCO GNLC is an international policy-oriented network providing inspiration, know-how and best practice. The network’s mission is to support and accelerate the practice of lifelong learning in the world’s communities by promoting policy dialogue and peer learning among member cities, forging links, fostering partnerships, building capacities and developing instruments to encourage and recognize progress in building learning cities.