EU and Mediterranean states to deepen academic cooperation

European Union and southern Mediterranean partner countries plan to establish a mechanism to enhance collaboration and the response of universities and research centres to socio-economic needs.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European commissioner for research, innovation and science, told the Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Research and Innovation held in Barcelona, Spain, on 2-3 April:

“In terms of research and innovation, the focus is on working towards the development of a 'common knowledge and innovation space' that would pull together policy dialogue, national and regional capacity-building, cooperation in research and innovation, as well as greater mobility for our researchers.”

The Arab Spring “called for a new vision for cooperation in research and innovation between the EU and Mediterranean countries, which would contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth in the region, and create the conditions for developing a new cooperation partnership”, Geoghegan-Quinn said.

She said the €80 billion (US$104 billion) Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme for 2014-20 would be the principal instrument for supporting Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in research and innovation.

The partnership will reinforce the capacity for research cooperation between universities through twinning and networking to promote an exchange of knowledge and dissemination of scientific information.

An observatory of scientific cooperation across the Mediterranean will be created under the auspices of MIRA, the Mediterranean Innovation and Research Coordination Action.

The observatory will focus on developing strategic indicators for measuring international scientific collaboration in the Mediterranean region such as financial and human resources, patents, designs and trademarks, and listing international agreements and programmes, policy measures, institutions and publications.

The partnership will support the creation of an electronic network connecting scientists in universities and research centres, and promote the cultural diversity-oriented postgraduate study and research programmes of the Slovenia-based Euro-Mediterranean University, an existing international network of universities comprising 179 members from 38 countries.

It will also improve the efficiency of projects such as Tempus, which supports the efforts of EU partner countries to modernise their higher education systems.

Rigas Arvanitis, a science and technology expert at the Institute of Research for Development in Beirut, said that the Barcelona conference had high-level political support.

“Given there was no ministerial meeting after the 2010 Inter-ministerial Cairo Meeting that drafted the Cairo Declaration in science and technology, this [conference] has become the most important event this year on Euro-Med cooperation in science and technology."

Arvanitis, one of the authors of the report Towards a Euro-Mediterranean Innovation Space: Ideas for research and policy-making, told University World News that a significant difference between the concept of a knowledge society and the cooperation indicated in the 2010 Cairo Declaration was that universities would be given a more active role in developing programmes, there was an emphasis on innovation, and programmes would be co-implemented and co-funded.

“The [European] Commission has accepted the need to develop co-ownership between European and non-European partners in its programming,” Arvanitis said.

“That means to have partners more actively participate in the design, funding, implementation and evaluation of proposals and programmes, which were until now more exclusively defined by the commission itself and its experts. It is a shift from a cooperation paradigm to a partnership paradigm.”

Speaking in a personal capacity to University World News Paolo Pasimeni of the European Commission, who is a co-author of the report, said: "The Mediterranean area suffers from a lack of competitiveness compared to other regions of the world; thus the best way to catch-up is to develop a broad Euro-Mediterranean Innovation Space.

“This is because a development strategy aiming at long-term sustainability cannot neglect research and innovation as the key drivers of a knowledge based economy, able to produce jobs and growth.”