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Kurt Hahn

31 March 2017

Founder of UWC

One of the most influential figures in international education of the 20th Century, Hahn was born in Germany in 1886 to Jewish parents. Kurt Hahn was educated in Germany and then in Oxford, before World War I brought him back to Germany. His early interest in education as a force for good was crystallised by the destruction he witnessed during the war, and with the support of Prince Max von Baden, the last imperial chancellor in Germany, in 1920 Hahn founded Salem School in Germany, based on respect for the individual, responsibility to the community and an awareness of the importance of the democratic process in sustaining both. In 1933, Hahn was exiled to the UK after speaking out against the Nazis and founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland, based on the four pillars of internationalism, challenge, responsibility and service.

Hahn played key roles in the founding of the Outward Bound Organisation, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and founded the UWC movement with Atlantic College in 1962. In 1955 he visited the NATO Defense College in Paris where he was inspired by the cooperation and loyalty to a common cause that he witnessed among military men who had been adversaries in World War Two. This, and his rapidly developing relationship with the Commandant, Lawrance Darvall, led directly to the concept of Atlantic College, the world’s first international, two-year “Sixth Form” College for teenagers aged 16-19. Thus was laid the foundation of the UWC movement. A few years later Lord Mountbatten, UWC’s International President from 1968-1977, pressed for the expansion of the UWC’s role beyond its original West European and North American context, establishing an international office in London and an International Council, and the growing movement was renamed the United World Colleges.

Hahn died in Germany in 1974. The entry in Britain’s Dictionary of National Biography calls him “headmaster and citizen of humanity.” His legacy remains one of the most vital and important in the history of internationally-minded education.


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