EUROPE: First Mediterranean university launched

A new Euro-Mediterranean University based in Slovenia has been launched with higher education courses that will focus on issues of importance to European, African and Levantine countries bordering the sea. Creation of the new institution was part of a joint declaration issued by heads of state and government from 43 countries at a Paris summit establishing a Mediterranean Union organisation.

This is a parallel group to the European Union although it also incorporates North Africa and Levantine countries that are not part of Europe. It has long been a pet project of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who hosted the summit. The summit communiqué said a Euro-Mediterranean University could "contribute to the understanding among people and encourage cooperation in higher education".

The new institution would develop postgraduate and research programmes, with participating countries encouraged to utilise existing EU higher education cooperation programmes such as Tempus and Erasmus Mundus. The statement added: "Particular attention should be paid to enhancing quality and to ensuring the relevance of vocational training to labour market needs."

The proclamation follows an inauguration of the university in June. It will be based in Slovenia's Mediterranean resort towns of Portoro? and Piran. Speaking in Portoro?, Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jan?a stressed the initiative's historic importance: "Europe and the Mediterranean have, since time immemorial, been connected in totality. European culture, art and science still draw inspiration from the achievements of the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and others who, in their own time, helped shape the region to which we belong."

All Slovenian universities have signed a letter of intent to cooperate with the new institution, including the universities of Nova Gorica, Maribor, Primorska, the country's Graduate School of Government and European Studies, and its Scientific Research Centre - SASA.

Supporting universities from around the world are signing a foundation charter until September. But already universities from Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey have signed.

These signatories will form a general assembly which will adopt a ruling statute for the university in December, with the university becoming a legal entity by the New Year. The work is being coordinated by the University Centre for Euro-Mediterranean Studies which was established as a public institution by Slovenia last October to make preparations for establishing the university.

The centre will stage a summer school this year with around 100 students and more than 20 foreign lecturers. It plans to publish an international scientific magazine in November and hold an international conference on the topic of intercultural dialogue, also later this year.

The university's stated aims are to develop academic and professional human resources in the region and contribute to the creation of a common higher education and research area in the Mediterranean; support and strengthen existing cooperation networks among universities and institutes by promoting and organising joint study and research programmes; and encourage intercultural dialogues.