EURO-MED: Plan for higher education and research

The 43 member states of the Union for the Mediterranean are planning a 'roadmap' to enhance cooperation in higher education and scientific research, and promote creation of knowledge-based societies in Euro-Mediterranean countries.

The union comprises the 27 European Union nations, 11 Middle East countries and five in North Africa.

The roadmap was outlined by Mohamed Ghannouchi, Prime Minister of Tunisia, at the opening of the second 'Mediterranean Meeting' held in Hammamet, Tunisia, in May.

It sets out a plan for joint projects in scientific research and technological innovation to be carried out through strengthening ties and partnerships between research centres and units on both sides of the Mediterranean.

It will establish a Euro-Mediterranean network through fully exploiting patents, boosting cooperation and exchanging expertise between technological clusters in the partner countries. It will also promote development-related research units within economic enterprises, particularly those operating in promising sectors and innovative activities.

The roadmap provides for strengthened ties and cooperation between academic institutions through exchange programmes for students and teachers and establishing equivalence between joint university degrees, as well as boosting collaboration in certification of competence for higher education graduates in scientific and technical sectors.

The union has initiated higher education, science and technology projects, including the inauguration of the Euro-Mediterranean University in Slovenia. It has also created a number of research centres and developed university networks.

Projects include de-polluting the Mediterranean Sea, drawing up a Mediterranean solar plan to generate energy from the sun and limit greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the vulnerability of energy systems and improving access to energy for isolated communities.

Meanwhile, the second Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference in the field of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, postponed because of air traffic disruption in April, will take place in Brdo, Slovenia, at a date to be announced.

The conference will provide an opportunity to advance creation of the Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area, take stock of the activities carried out since the first meeting in Cairo, Egypt, in June 2007, and endorse an action plan to achieve significant progress in coming years.

The Cairo Declaration, endorsed by the first Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference, set the framework for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in higher education and research.

Other activities include the union's ministerial conference on food security, agriculture and rural development to be held in Cairo on 15-16 June. This will aim to identify and promote projects related to sustainable rural development, quality products, and coordination of agricultural research on topics such as water-stress-resistant plant species and water resources management.

The five countries of the Arab Maghreb Union - Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia - and five European countries - France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain - agreed to create a Mediterranean sustainable development observatory under the Oran declaration. This was approved at the first '5+5' ministerial conference on the environment and renewable energies held in Oran, Algeria, in April.

The observatory, proposed by Algeria, will be located in a 40-hectare garden on the Oran coast. It will monitor environmental preparations for sustainable development, as well as the formulation and harmonisation of member countries' plans for climate change.

The observatory will also provide scientific information, diagnostics and scenario building for development policies for information sharing, increased cooperation and coordination of response strategies.