ISLAMIC STATES: Space for higher education planned

Islamic states are to foster mutual recognition of degrees among universities and cooperate to enhance exchange of information, experience, researchers and students following the launch of an Islamic 'space' for higher education.

Under the initiative, which is one of the steps to translate the "strategy for developing university education in the Islamic states" into practical programmes, an Islamic framework for qualifications will be set up to make it easier to recognise degrees and their equivalence, to enable the mobility of students and academics.

Besides organising joint academic conferences, the initiative calls for setting up exchange programmes for students and staff, study grants and sabbatical years in universities across Islamic countries, as well as journals and books.

In addition, exchange of expertise and information among research centers, building academic networking among Islamic private and state universities and establishing joint Islamic universities is to be encouraged.

Existing ways to support the Islamic space for higher education, such as online networks among Islamic universities and the Islamic network for quality assurance and accreditation of higher education institutions, will be strengthened

Joint education programmes will be set up among universities, as a prelude to granting joint certificates from participating universities to students who are studying at more than one Islamic university.

This initiative was outlined at an experts meeting entitled "establishing a space for higher education in the Islamic world" held in Beirut from 20-23 June, and organised by the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World in cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

Hassanuddeen Abd Aziz, dean of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia, cautiously welcomed the initiative.

He sees it as "a good step similar to the Bologna declaration on the European space for higher education that must be created gradually and in parallel with reforming of Islamic universities, as we need the Islamic higher education space to be a union of strong universities not a collection of weak ones".

Out of about 1,500 universities located in 57 Islamic states, not one appears in rankings of the world's top 100 universtiies.

"As fruitful inter-Islamic universities cooperation depends on its quality, an Islamic accreditation system is needed to ensure that minimum standards of quality are met by the universities involved," Abd Aziz told University World News.

In a bid to promote the establishment of an Islamic space for higher education, on 9 June the Organisation of the Islamic Conference business centre published its second edition of the OIC Education Directory, aimed at bridging the gap between education communities in its 57 member states.

The Directory disseminates information on institutions and courses offered, with the objective of serving the Muslim world population and contributing to the development of intellectual capacity and skills based within the OIC. It also highlights the strategies and goals of OIC member states in enhancing the level and quality of education in their countries.

Speaking at the launching of the Directory Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, the Malaysian Higher Education Minister, said "a larger and more formal OIC-wide student mobility programme should be planned and implemented, with the aim of building a strong network not only among youths but also future leaders of members of the OIC in various fields of interest, including science, technology and engineering".

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ISLAMIC STATES: Boosting higher education cooperation