GLOBAL: Plan to grow Arab-South American links

A three-year plan to increase higher education cooperation between 12 South American and 22 Arab countries is to start next year. The aim is to improve the quality of education in both regions, enhance cooperation and exchange of experience, and build an educational and scientific database.

The initiative was announced at the First Meeting of Ministers of Education in Arab and South American States, at the end of November in Kuwait.

The meeting was attended by members of the Arab League, the Arab Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (ALECSO), representatives of South American countries, the regional office of UNESCO and the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States.

The plan includes full implementation of the 2009 Doha Declaration on scientific, technical and educational cooperation.

A special data network will be set up to exchange expertise and promote information about educational policies in the participating countries.

It calls for building cultural and educational bridges between Arab nations and people of South American countries through teaching languages at academic institutions. Centres for teaching Spanish and Portuguese at universities in Arab countries and identical institutions in South America to teach Arabic will be established.

Other developments planned include an e-network for exchanging expertise and applying modern information technology in teaching the Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish languages, involving the private sector, and special linguistic programmes for translating Arabic publications into Spanish and Portuguese.

With the help of heads of universities in the two regions, a network and directory of Arab, Spanish and Portuguese language studies centres, which would list institutions from the two regions, will be created.

ALECSO has been assigned to establish a mechanism for implementing the Kuwaiti plan in coordination with the secretariat of the League of Arab States and the coordinator of South American states (Brazil), and to report to the next joint meeting to be held in Lima, Peru, in September 2012.

Ambassador Faeka Al-Saleh, advisor to the Arab League secretary-general, said educational cooperation between South America and the Arab world could pave the way for "boosting bilateral ties, and realising prosperity and sustainable development", the Kuwait News Agency reported.

Egyptian-born Nagib Nassar, a professor of genetics at the University of Brasilia, who moved to Brazil in 1974, welcomed the plan. He said attempts should be made to integrate areas of knowledge in Arab and South American countries.

"For example, Portuguese language, economy, tropical diseases and biotechnology provided by Brazil; and irrigation, plant breeding and Arabic language from Egypt, " he told University World News.

Past experiments and future potential should also be taken in consideration. "The best example comes from Brazil, which has hosted some 100 Libyan students over the past 30 years in the areas of physics, economy and Portuguese. They returned to Libya forming a solid base of professionals and served to forge relations between the two countries," Nassar said.

He said an Arab-South America university concentrating on postgraduate studies should be created with a special curriculum addressing the needs of the two regions. "A cadre of highly qualified scientists should be built up through the years," Nassar suggested.

Mohammed Kuchari, an associate professor of microbiology at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said increased cooperation was a vital step towards improving higher education institutions in the two regions.

"While Arab private universities are small and offer limited, low-quality disciplines. Brazil, as one of the 12 South American countries, has one of the largest private sectors in the world enrolling about 75% of the total number of post-secondary students. Thus, establishing private universities could be one of the potential areas for cooperation between the two nations," Kuchari told University World News.

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