UNESCO's World Heritage Centre has signed a partnership agreement with the French not-for-profit organization, ‘Vocations Patrimoine, l'Héritage du futur', aimed at enhancing the management capacities of professionals currently working, or intending to work in the future, at World Heritage sites. The Association, whose President is the renowned paleo-anthropologist Professor Yves Coppens, has secured financial support for the programme from international groups AXA and MAZARS.

Capacity-building at the national and regional levels is an essential component of implementing the Global Strategy for a balanced and representative World Heritage List adopted by the World Heritage Committee in 1994. Its significance was further underlined through the Committee's 2002 Budapest Declaration on World Heritage, by which the World Heritage Committee recognized capacity building as one of 4 strategic objectives which would guide its actions, and called for countries and other partners around the world to join together and co-operate in the protection of heritage. In spite of high demand for grants, there is at present no global grant programme dedicated to World Heritage conservation and management.

The purpose of this partnership is to further develop the skills of relevant professionals who are currently working, or intending to work in the future, in the management, conservation and development of World Heritage sites. The aim is to provide people in early or mid career with the necessary knowledge, skills and commitment in an interdisciplinary programme to become better managers of cultural and natural heritage.

A minimum of five fellowships for graduate studies leading to a Master of Arts or of Science degree or equivalent, in fields related to the management of cultural and natural heritage sites will be awarded in each exercise.

The beneficiaries will be encouraged to develop concepts and strategies for programmes that may be initiated, managed and implemented by international organizations, national centres, non-governmental bodies or private institutions responsible for the improved protection, preservation and rehabilitation of cultural and natural heritage sites. The studies should be interdisciplinary in nature and include both the transfer of theoretical knowledge and the acquisition of practical skills with a view to enhancing human resources and to empowering future managers of World Heritage Sites.

The fellowships programme will be officially launched and the first awards bestowed at a ceremony at UNESCO on 16 March 2006. For this, the World Heritage Centre has worked closely with two universities, University College Dublin in Ireland and Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus in Germany, already offering advanced level interdisciplinary programmes in World Heritage management, to identify particularly deserving students, currently enrolled on their respective Masters courses, on the basis of their academic performance and the development of a suitable project proposal.

It is hoped that for future exercises, the number of host institutions will be enlarged to include other regions of the world to better ensure geographical and linguistic balance.

A second exercise, open to citizens of all States Parties to the World Heritage Convention, via their respective National Commission for UNESCO, will be launched later in the year.