The History of the Institute



The Graduate Institute’s creation in 1927 was prompted by the establishment of the League of Nations in Geneva following World War I, and from the desire to avoid a new global catastrophe by making diplomacy more transparent and by better training citizens on international issues. 

William Rappard, Professor of Economic History at the University of Geneva, was a driving force in the Institute’s creation. His vision was for the Institute to serve a dual purpose: on one hand, it would meet international institutions’ needs by training their staff and by providing them with relevant expertise; on the other, it would provide students with a keen grasp of international affairs.

In autumn of 1927, the Graduate Institute of International Studies (HEI) opened its doors headed by Paul Mantoux, a professor of economic history, as first director. It was the first institution in the world to be entirely devoted to the study of international relations.

The Institute distinguished itself during the 1930s and World War II by welcoming exiled researchers from all over Europe and maintaining its intellectual independence.



In the 1950s, the Institute embarked on a phase of expansion under the leadership of Jacques Freymond. Mirroring transformations in the international community, this enlargement took into account the history of communism and the Cold War, placing particular emphasis on multilateral diplomacy, strategic studies, trade and international monetary economics, as well as third-world and development issues. 

Geographically, the Institute opened up to regions such as Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. As its teaching and student body diversified, the Institute continued to welcome refugees, notably during the Hungarian and Czechoslovak crises. Furthermore, Jacques Freymond helped create the Geneva African Institute, as well as international relations institutes in Trinidad and Tobago, Nairobi, Yaoundé and later in Malta. 

The Institute’s teaching and research adapted as the world evolved. As the Institute strengthened its links with the United Nations system, in particular the specialised UN agencies established in Geneva after 1945, strong links were also forged with the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), where many Institute graduates found employment. 



The process of decolonisation, which began in the 1950s, led to the establishment of development agencies and programmes at both state and international levels. 

In 1961, the Canton of Geneva, with the support of the Protestant church and Jacques Freymond, created the Geneva Centre for the Training of African Managers, later renamed the Geneva African Institute. In 1973, the Geneva African Institute evolved into the Institute of Development Studies and then, following a 1977 agreement with the University of Geneva, into the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (IUED). 

IUED arose from the desire to study development issues in their totality and diversity, as well as from an emphasis on linking theory to practice. IUED favoured an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on anthropology, ecology, development economics and political sociology, in addition to highlighting epistemological reflection. Convinced that development practice formed a crucial part of study, IUED prioritised field surveys, carrying out projects on behalf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to that end. 



In the early 2000s, public authorities in Bern and Geneva initiated the idea of bringing HEI and IUED together to increase Geneva’s international profile through the creation of a major academic institution.

In 2007, the Foundation for the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies was established. The new Institute was to receive greater financial resources, acquire full autonomy from the University of Geneva and construct a building capable of housing not just its own community, but those of the centres supported by the Swiss Confederation. The Graduate Institute would own the building, receiving an investment grant from the authorities; in return, the Institute would take on the financial risk of constructing the property as well as obtaining a bank loan and seeking donations from patrons.

In 2006, the University of Geneva supported the new institution’s creation by acknowledging the Institute’s full autonomy and its capacity to issue diplomas, including doctorates. A partnership was then established with, as a basis, three joint centres: the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the Geneva Center for International Dispute Settlement and the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action



During the last decade, the Institute has acquired a unique profile, which combines continuity with innovation. 

Continuity is embodied in the Institute’s legal basis as a private foundation, in its vocation of contributing to international cooperation and the development of less-developed countries and in its application of international law and social sciences to analyse the problems of the contemporary world. 

Innovation is embodied in the Institute’s integration of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to balance academic rigour with the need to produce concrete solutions, in the combination of international relations with development studies to better respond to global challenges and in the importance placed on providing executive education to international actors. 

Taking advantage of its status as a private foundation, the Institute is strengthening its financial base by developing real estate assets (notably student housing) as an effective way to both boost the Institute’s income and fund its future growth.

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The Institute and the International Community: 90 Years of History