UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities

Lifelong learning is at the heart of sustainable cities

Global network of learning cities 

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. The 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’).

Download the GNLC Strategy 2021-2023

What is a learning city?

A learning city promotes lifelong learning for all. UNESCO defines a learning city as a city that:

  • 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.

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 UNESCO GNLC only accepts up to three new member cities per country per year;
  • applications are reviewed and accepted in the period from 1 March to 30 April only;
  • cities that are already members of the network are required to submit a progress report on their learning city project to the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team every two years.

Become a member

From 1 March to 30 April each year, cities in UNESCO Member States are invited to apply for membership of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. Application forms are available on the UNESCO GNLC web page. The form must be filled in electronically and must include the city mayor’s signature.

The application form should be sent by email to the responsible National Commission for UNESCO for endorsement; the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team (learningcities@unesco.org) should be included in all correspondence. Contact information can be found online in the Directory of National Commissions for UNESCO. Please note that National Commissions have the right to request additional documents and records from the city if necessary prior to endorsing the application.

Once the application has been endorsed, the relevant National Commission is asked to submit the completed application to the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team. The applicant city should be sent a copy of this correspondence. Alternatively, following endorsement by the National Commission, the city can submit the final application directly to UNESCO GNLC, copying in the relevant National Commission. Please note that UIL has the right to request additional documents and records from the city in order to complete the application process.

Time-frame for application: There is one open call for applications per year, from 1 March to 30 April, during which time cities may submit their membership applications to their National Commission for UNESCO. After this application period has ended, National Commissions have up to one month to send endorsed applications to the UNESCO GNLC Coordination Team.