Higher education exchange programme launched by OIC

The Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has announced a higher education exchange programme that will facilitate scholarships, faculty exchanges, collaboration on distance learning methods and research projects among its 57 member countries.

Implementation of the initiative has kicked off with an offer of 10 special scholarships from the University of Kuala Lumpur. Universities in Turkey and Pakistan are also poised to offer scholarships under the new programme.

Mohamed Zaghoul, professional officer at the OIC’s Jeddah secretariat, told University World News that the exchange initiative “will streamline the scholarship offers by our member countries and facilitate regional and multilateral higher education cooperation.

“The programme will also address the faculty deficiency at different universities in the Islamic world through exchange of academic experts.”

OIC member states have already been offering scholarships to students from other OIC countries, routing offers through the OIC secretariat. But there were bureaucratic hurdles and a mismatch, as in some years countries made no offers.

With a growing number of member states now offering scholarships, particularly at postgraduate and post-doctoral levels in fields such as science, engineering and medicine, the special OIC secretariat for exchanges can follow up on country commitments and match applications to offers.

It will also work to minimise hurdles and delays, in order to facilitate a growing number of joint research projects, another component of the programme. This will involve exchange of researchers for ongoing projects and the initiation of new joint research of interest to the countries involved.

Zaghoul said the secretariat would help willing member states to form sub-groups for special research projects that member countries considered “relevant and crucial to their academic and social needs”.

Junaid Zaidi, rector of the Islamabad-based COMSATS Institute of Information Technology – a founding member of the programme – told University World News:

“Many OIC member countries are already offering scholarships or have trained faculty to share and many are in need of these offers, but we lacked a structured system before this initiative was introduced.”

He added that the new programme would not duplicate an initiative announced at an OIC ministerial meeting in December last year for a higher education network to facilitate distance learning to overcome faculty shortages in many OIC countries.

“The educational exchange programme has five components, whereas the previously announced network aimed only to link OIC universities for online or video conference lectures,” Zaidi said.

The idea of an OIC educational exchange programme was first discussed during the June 2011 meeting of the foreign ministers of Islamic nations in Kazakhstan, when OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called for new initiatives to promote exchanges and sharing of knowledge and experience “through more structured interaction”.

Ihsanoglu said: “Such an exchange programme would provide for short duration exchange of students, researchers and teachers between higher education institutions of member states on a reciprocal basis.”