Francophone university agency opens bureau in Morocco

The Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie last week inaugurated its new Maghreb regional bureau in Rabat. As well as serving Morocco, the bureau will represent the French-language university agency in Algeria and Tunisia, serving nearly 100 higher education and research institutions.

The bureau will organise and coordinate the AUF’s activities in the region, and support education and research in priority thematic areas focused on sustainable development, in particular the environment, new and renewable energies, water and management of natural resources, agriculture, health and hygiene, according to the agency.

“It will support reform of education in and of French in higher education, contribute to the modernisation of university governance and stimulate entrepreneurial initiative and innovation, and expansion of aesthetic and artistic creativity in the university community,” it said.

The AUF, founded in Montreal in 1961, aims to promote higher education and research throughout the world in French-speaking institutions.

It operates through 70 branches under its 10 regional offices – including the new Maghreb bureau – bringing together a membership of 786 higher education and research institutions in 98 countries.

The AUF organises cooperation programmes and makes available more than 2,000 mobility grants to students, teachers and researchers. It has created a network of 44 digital campuses, which offer services to universities including internet subscriptions, video-conferencing, access to scientific and technical information, production of course content and training for ICT trainers and users.

Its 2011 budget was €39.5 million (US$49.4 million), the French government contributing the lion’s share, with contributions also from Canada, Quebec, Belgium’s francophone community, Switzerland and Cameroon.

Launching the Maghreb bureau, Bernard Cerquiglini, rector of the AUF, said its presence “will support inter-university cooperation, promote the French-speaking scientific community at the international level and train capable professionals to contribute to the development of their country”.

The director of the new bureau is Cristina Robalo-Cordeiro, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal where she was vice-president from 2003 until 2011.

As well as being France’s honorary consul in Coimbra and president of the Alliance Française there, she coordinated a number of research and cooperation projects, mostly within European programmes. She is a member of the commission of experts of the European University Association’s evaluation programme of European universities.

The Maghreb bureau will draw on resources of five digital campuses in the three countries – one each in Rabat and Tunis, and three in Algeria – in Algiers, Constantine and Oran.

Additionally, in Tunis the Institut Francophone de l’Ingénierie de la Connaissance et des Formations à Distance was set up this year to support higher education institutions working on developing and modernising educational systems and ICT innovation. The institute will play a leading part in open and distance education.

In Morocco 29 higher education and research institutions are members of the AUF. Among research projects assisted by the agency are nearly 30 national and international university collaborations. Partner countries include Burkina Faso, Gabon, Senegal, Canada, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Lebanon.

Algeria counts 52 AUF member institutions. About 20 inter-university scientific projects are supported by the agency, including partnerships with institutions in France, Syria, Romania, Albania, Tunisia, Spain, Mauritania and Lebanon.

In Tunisia 17 universities and research centres are AUF members, and 20 AUF-supported scientific research projects have been set up between universities. Countries where partner institutions are located include Canada, France, Portugal, Egypt and Lebanon.

The Maghreb region was previously covered by AUF’s Brussels-based West Europe and Maghreb office, opened in 2002. With the number of its member institutions in the three North African countries continually rising, from three in 1961 to the current 98, the agency decided it was time to establish its 10th regional bureau in the world.