ITALY-LIBYA: A new strategic partnership

During Libyan leader Muammar Kadhafi's visit to Rome, Italy and Libya launched a strategic partnership in higher education, science and technology.

Kadhafi's visit seals a major rapprochement since Italy signed a deal with its former colony last August pledging US$5 billion over the next 20 years as compensation for colonising the North African country from 1911 to 1947. The Libyan-Italian deal became effective in March with Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's visit to the Libyan town Sirte and his formal apologies for colonialism.

The strategic partnership was launched under a treaty on friendship, partnership and cooperation. It includes bilateral agreements to boost scientific and technical cooperation in sea resources, student exchanges and scholarships for Libyan students. It will also support government-to-government exchanges, scientific partnerships between private, academic, and non-governmental entities, and the establishment of science-based industries.

During the visit, the La Spienza University in Rome honoured Kadhafi by awarding him its gold medal, in consideration of his role in building cooperation and friendship ties among peoples.

In a speech to the university's staff and students, Kadhafi emphasised the need for the curricula in schools worldwide to integrate the history of colonisation in Libya and Africa, "in an objective, scientific and not biased or prejudiced way in order not to inculcate errors in generations".

Gibril Eljrushi, dean of engineering at the 7 October University in Libya's Misurata, told University World News, "The Italian-Libyan cooperation plan in higher education along with the recent improvements in British, French, UK and American academic relations represent a new chapter of international cooperation."

Eljrushi said a US$9 billion five-year Libyan higher education strategic plan would facilitate technology and knowledge transfer into the country as well as building the Libyan scientific workforces.

But Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications in Alexandria, Egypt, said that while it was good to boost academic relations with the international community, Libya had to strengthen its domestic postgraduate institutes to produce its own scientific workforces at home instead of sending students abroad. Otherwise, Abdel Al said this would lead to a brain drain "of a new generation of the nation's top talent".

The Libyan Doctors Society has a membership of about 150 doctors of Libyan origin in the UK alone and in Africa, the UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that every African professional migrant costs his nation US$184,000 while the brain drain is costing Africa in total up to US$ 4 billion a year.

"Libya has the resources to establish well-advanced postgraduate scientific research and higher education institutes and, if needed, to get foreign experts to train students on the national soil but this expensive short-term alternative must be a stop-gap," Abdel Al suggested.

"For a shortcut to kick-starting Libya's higher education reform plans, immediate actions are needed to implement proactive policies that would attract the well-trained Libyan diaspora back home, not to push talented students to study abroad," he said.