In what has been described as a ‘win-win’ deal, South Korea and Egypt have unveiled a higher education cooperation plan that includes the establishment of a joint institution, networking among universities in the two countries, and enhanced student and academic mobility.
The plan is seen as an expression of cultural diplomacy or 'soft power' aimed at building regional alliances and partnerships with African countries.
Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the National Research Centre in Cairo, described the Africa-South Korea higher education cooperation plan as a ‘win-win deal’.
"While it [the plan] helps African states in developing educational infrastructure, promoting human scientific capacity and learning about higher education best practices from the university model in Korea, which transformed itself from a war-torn country into the economic miracle of today through education, it helps South Korea in enhancing its regional soft power as well as deepening and strengthening its economic and cultural relations," Abd-El-Aal said.
Details of the Egypt-South Korea higher education cooperation plan were published last month on the Egyptian Higher Education and Scientific Research Ministry website.
The plan includes the signing of an agreement between Egyptian Investment and International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr and South Korean Ambassador to Egypt Yoon Soon-Gu to set up an Egyptian-Korean technical education facility in the Beni Suef governorate of Upper Egypt.
The establishment of the US$6 million facility will be provided as a grant from the Korea International Cooperation Agency.
The institution is to provide skilled labour to the Egyptian market and develop the scientific capabilities of teaching staff.
Under the Egypt-South Korea higher education cooperation plan, cooperation among universities will be promoted in several fields including science and engineering, vocational and technical education, academic staff and student exchange, joint research and projects, and the establishment of networks among Egyptian and South Korean universities.
Soft power index
According to a 2016 report produced by strategic communications consultancy Portland entitled The Soft Power 30 – A global ranking of soft power, South Korea ranked at 22 on a global soft power index – ahead of China which appeared at 28. The index ranks the top countries in terms of soft power, and includes factors such as higher education, cultural production and technological innovation.
The Egypt-South Korea plan is part of a broader South Korea strategy to build cooperation between universities in South Korea and Africa's 54 states, as indicated in the joint declaration of the Fifth Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation or KOAFEC Ministerial Conference, held in the Korean capital of Seoul from 24-27 October 2016.
Leveraging South Korean strengths
"Convinced that effective cooperation in science, technology, innovation and higher education will contribute to improved quality of life, Korea will leverage its strengths in information and communication technology or ICT, science and technology through the establishment of advanced academic institutions and training programmes, delivery of vocational skills and ICT education to cultivate a skilled workforce for greater industrial growth," the joint KOAFEC declaration said.
KOAFEC's 2017-18 Action Plan approved by South Korea's Ministry of Strategy and Finance focuses, among other things, on promoting research and development activities and technology transfer, establishing innovative higher education institutions and facilities, and strengthening capacity building in the field of science, technology and innovation as well as developing skilled labour through technical and vocational education and training and promoting quality education for Africa’s development.
The plan aims to share Korea’s developmental know-how with African countries, and work towards lessening the knowledge divide.
Besides promoting e-agriculture, and organising ICT training programmes along with science, technology and innovation workshops, the plan includes a comprehensive list of pipeline projects.
These projects include an ICT education model in Sudan, the establishment of the University of Environment and Sustainable Development in Ghana, the transformation of Adama Science and Technology University in Ethiopia, the establishment of Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks in Ethiopia, as well the upgrading of the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology.
South Korea continues support for higher education
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