The Unit began operation in 2001 and is based at the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage (formerly School of Social Sciences). It is dedicated to research in the field of ethnography and development with a strong environmental emphasis focusing on Sabah and Sarawak with some interest in Indonesian Kalimantan. The emphasis on Borneo is to take advantage of the region's multi-ethnic population and rich biodiversity. As a research centre in the Faculty, the unit emphasises inter-disciplinary research drawing expertise from disciplines including Sociology and Anthropology, History, Human Geography, Politics and International Relations.
It also encourages joint research with disciplines other than the social sciences especially in the Biological Sciences- marine and terrestrial-in the area of environmental conservation. Apart from research activities, the Unit also conducts conferences, workshops and seminars as part of its attempt to disseminate knowledge and to provide linkages between the university student population and academics with the general public. Research topics to which this Unit devote itself includes ethnic relations of the Sabah population and the impact of development on the social and physical environment local, especially rural communities..
The Unit is actively involved in developing research networks nationally and internationally, has an active seminar series and is embarking on a planned expansion program.
Research at UPEP is dedicated to the field of Ethnography and Development in the Borneo Region. It's research niche is in the areas of:
- Tourism Development, Poverty and Social Transformation.
- Development, Natural Resources and Indigenous Communities.
- Socio-Cultural History and Borneo Ethnography.
- Islands and Coastal Communities and Sustainable Development.
- Borneo’s Migration, Works and Industrialisation.
- Community Development, Environment and Communication.
- Development, Security and Boarders Communities.