ISLAMIC STATES: Higher education network approved

A high-profile meeting of ministers of higher education and research from member countries of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has approved setting up a higher education cooperation forum for developing nations including Islamic states during a meeting in Azerbaijan.

The Higher Education Network (THEN) was approved during an executive committee meeting held in Baku from 23-26 November of the Islamabad-based OIC committee on science and technology (COMSTECH).

Funding for THEN will be sought from the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, which has funded many COMSTECH initiatives in the past.

"Under this initiative, a consortium of academics will be developed to deliver research-based lectures in their specialised academic areas as well as offer courses to students in higher education institutions through video conferencing technology," COMSTECH head Atta-ur-Rahman told University World News.

He said it would be a forum bringing together scholars from around the world to help enhance the quality of teaching and learning in developing countries.

"The higher education sectors of the developing world are deeply in need of highly trained scholars to deliver a basic undergraduate curriculum, but cannot afford to replace local faculty with western-trained academics," said Atta-ur-Rahman, a former science minister in Pakistan.

The concept of THEN emerged from the Virtual Education Project Pakistan run jointly by Karachi University's International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) and the Islamabad-based Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering with funding from the country's Higher Education Commission.

The virtual education project involves academics from a variety of disciplines around the world delivering lectures through video conferencing.

"For this new network, we have the technology to broadcast these lectures in universities across the continents," ICCBS director Mohammad Iqbal Choudhary told University World News, adding that 25 reputable universities had already joined the network.

During the Baku meeting, the OIC committee of ministers asked COMSTECH to bring as many OIC member states under the THEN umbrella by the end of 2012.

However, the new network will not be limited to OIC states. It will also include institutions and academics from elsewhere in the developing world.

In addition, partnerships have already been agreed with the Internet Education and Research Laboratory whose members include Japan, Korea, Thailand and other Asian countries; with the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok; and with the Global Young Academy, a network of young scientists.

Besides a number of Pakistani universities, the US University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of California, University of Geneva in Switzerland, University of Winnipeg in Canada and the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh have joined the initiative.

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