Chair in Globalising a Shared Education Model for Improving Relations in Divided Societies

Queen’s University Belfast – Professor Joanne Hughes

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The need and the demand for social cohesion and intercultural dialogue have never been more urgent.

Shared education aims to reduce prejudice and foster mutual understanding through inter-group engagement, having developed in a society still emerging from a long history of inter-group conflict. The approach is rights-respecting, underpinned by values of equality and respect for difference, and has been shown to have clear potential for building more positive inter-group relations in other divided contexts.


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UNESCO Chair in Education in a Multinational and Multi-Confessional Society




“The education system presents a huge opportunity for relationship building in divided societies. It is my hope that our work in shared education can make a real difference to the lives of beneficiaries and promote wider social cohesion in communities affected by conflict and division.”

Professor Joanne Hughes

UNESCO Chairs are based within Institutes for Higher Education and specialise in specific research fields. They provide policy advice to the UK National Commission for UNESCO and HM government, as well as reviewing UNESCO applications.


The Centre for Shared education, led by Professor Joanne Hughes at Queen’s University, advocates shared education as a model for promoting inter-relations through education. This model accepts the existence of schools divided on ethnic or religious lines as understandable and legitimate expressions of difference in divided and plural societies whilst at the same time adopting a critical-reflective approach.

The Chair seeks to promote collaboration with the aim of delivering educational benefits to learners and promoting the efficient and effective use of resources. The key principles of their work include promoting equality of opportunity, good relations, equality of identity, respect for diversity and community cohesion.

The Centre delivers its vision through three core strands of interlinked activities: research (examining the processes and outcomes of shared education); intervention (assisting in the development and delivery of shared education interventions in schools); education and training (developing and providing training and resources for shared education).


Professor Hughes’ main research interests are in the role of education in divided societies, and inequalities in education. Current research projects explore longitudinally the effect of inter-group contact between Protestant and Catholic pupils in Northern Ireland, and the development and effectiveness of shared education interventions locally and in international settings, including Israel and the Balkans.

Her research in NI informed the Shared Education Act (2016) and an associated policy framework, and in North Macedonia, the establishment of a state-wide Interethnic Integration in Education Programme, and the development of resources that have been made available to every primary school in the region. In Israel, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo she is working with local NGOs and officials to develop shared education interventions. Relating to research impact, her work is one of 19 Signature Projects supported in Queen’s Social Charter (2017).

Staff from the Centre for Shared Education deliver two training modules for post-primary teachers and other education stakeholders too: the first module, ‘Maximising Collaboration and Intergroup Contact’, explores effective collaboration and considers the logistics and challenges that arise when schools work together. Participants explore the principles of contact theory and focus on best practice at classroom level. The second module, ‘Teaching and Dealing with Controversial and Sensitive Issues’, explores the nature of controversial issues in Northern Ireland and provides research-based, practical strategies for meaningful and engaging exploration of such topics in the classroom.

Professor Joanne Hughes

Joanne Hughes is Director of the Centre for Shared Education at Queen’s and has led more than 20 research projects on the theme of shared education. In 2019, her work was recognised in a Queen’s Anniversary Prize, awarded to Queen’s University for Shared Education, and she has advised Government Officials and Ministers internationally on the development of policies and interventions to promote good relations in schools.

From 2010-2014 she was editor of the prestigious British Educational Research Journal and has served on the Executive Council of the British Educational Research Association from 2012-2017. In 2019 she was appointed to the international Learner Research Network Advisory Board.


Queen’s University Belfast
Professor, Director of the Centre for Shared Education


Queen’s University, Belfast
BA, PhD.

#Role at UNESCO

Chair in Globalising a Shared Education Model for Improving Relations in Divided Societies

SINCE 2015



Read about some of the many projects that Professor Hughes has been a part of during her career.



In role as Chair and Director of the Centre for Shared Education, Joanne has spent her career exploring the benefits of shared education methods, as well as how we might optimise their delivery.


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“The School of Education team involved in piloting the actual delivery of shared education within schools were instrumental to shaping what schools are now doing –this team encouraged schools to be innovative and collaborative to reach communities that many thought would never become involved in peace building work as a result of having been so scarred from conflict.”

Christopher G. Oechsli, President & Chief Executive Officer
The Atlantic Philanthropies


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