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UWC History & Founding Ideas

One of the most important things we can learn is how to understand each other.

This idea has been at the heart of what we do at UWC, ever since our first school was founded in 1962.

We believe that education can be about more than just personal advancement, or securing a place at university. It can inspire students to discover what connects us all as humans, and to act as champions for a world of peace, collaboration and understanding.

Where it started 


"I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and - above all - compassion."

- Kurt Hahn (Founder of UWC)

In 1955, educational pioneer Kurt Hahn delivered a speech at the NATO Defense College in Paris. During his visit, he was inspired by the cooperation and loyalty shown by military men who had very recently been on opposite sides in World War Two.

Hahn had already been involved in the founding of a number of schools and education organisations, and his ideas on education were constantly evolving. At the time, he talked frequently about the power of education as a route to peace, as well as a need to reverse the “decline of compassion” in society.

It was through the convergence of these ideas that UWC was eventually born. 

In a 1958 speech, he said:

“There are three ways of trying to capture the young; one is to preach at them — I’m afraid that is a hook without a worm; the second is to coerce them... and to tell them ‘You must volunteer’... the third is an appeal which never fails, ‘You are needed’.”

In 1962, UWC Atlantic (originally called Atlantic College) in Wales, United Kingdom, admitted its first students. The first UWC school was built on the idea that if young people from different backgrounds were educated together, they could build an understanding which could prevent future conflicts.

It was the world’s first international, two-year Sixth Form College for teenagers aged 16 to 19.








It was a place where they would learn the empathy that enabled them to listen, and consider other perspectives, even if they were very different to their own. They would learn the strength to stand for what was right, even if the risk was great. And they would learn to be resilient, and to learn from mistakes rather than give up.

From the earliest days of Atlantic College, there was a desire to replicate the model. It was the height of the Cold War, and many saw the benefits of an idea that valued connection, compassion and service. By the end of the 1960s, the United World Colleges name had been coined, and a movement started to become a reality.

UWC’s first international president, Lord Mountbatten, helped the UWC movement develop beyond its North Atlantic roots. He oversaw the foundation of national committees, which would select students and promote UWC in different countries. In years to come, UWC schools would appear in Singapore and Canada, and later in continents across the world.

UWC has always been about listening, and learning. It has evolved and grown in line with the needs of its communities and the world around it. And its commitment to peace, understanding and resilience remains as strong as ever. 

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  • 2019

    UWC East Africa opens.
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  • 2017

    UWC ISAK Japan opens.
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  • 2016

    UWC Thailand opens.
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  • 2015

    UWC Changshu China opens.
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  • 2014

    UWC Dilijan in Armenia, and UWC Robert Bosch College in Germany, open.
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  • 2012

    Simón Bolívar UWC of Agriculture closes following actions taken by the Venezuelan government to make it a public university.
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  • 2009

    UWC Maastricht joins UWC, merging two existing international schools – the International School Maastricht and the International Primary School Joppenhof.
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  • 2006

    UWC Costa Rica, formerly the Costa Rica SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College, joins UWC. UWC Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina opens.
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  • 1999

    South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela becomes Honorary President of UWC.
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  • 1997

    UWC Mahindra College in Pune, India, opens.
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  • 1995

    HM Queen Noor of Jordan and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela become joint Presidents of UWC. UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway opens a joint venture with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the eight Nordic governments.
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  • 1992

    Li Po Chun UWC of Hong Kong opens.
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  • 1990s

    UWC short programmes begin, helping more young people benefit from our pioneering model of education.
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  • 1988

    HM King Charles III and agronomist Dr Luis Marcano Coello help establish a UWC college in Venezuela – Simón Bolívar UWC of Agriculture.
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  • 1982

    Two more colleges, UWC-USA in New Mexico and UWC Adriatic in Italy, open.
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  • 1981

    Waterford Kamhlaba School in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), founded in 1963 as a multi-racial school in opposition to South Africa's apartheid policies, becomes Waterford Kamhlaba UWC of Southern Africa.
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  • 1978

    HM King Charles III becomes President of UWC.
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  • 1975

    The Singapore International School becomes a full member of UWC, now called UWC South East Asia.
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  • 1974

    Pearson College UWC opens in Victoria, Canada. Former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lester B Pearson was the inspiration behind the college.
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  • 1971

    Singapore International School officially opens as an associate member of the UWC.
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  • 1970s

    National committees are created to promote the UWC movement in different countries and to select students for various colleges and schools.
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  • 1967

    Lord Mountbatten becomes President of the movement, on condition of a concerted effort to internationalise; a year later, the growing movement was renamed the United World Colleges.
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  • 1962

    UWC was founded with Atlantic College admitting its first students, being hailed by The Times as "the most exciting experiment in education since the Second World War".
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  • Timeline

    UWC Today


    There are 18 UWC schools and colleges.


    We are represented in more than 150 countries through our national committees.


    Over 60,000 students from over 180 countries have studied at UWC schools and colleges and on our short course programmes.