North African higher education initiatives launched

Two new initiatives are under way in North Africa to promote regional and international higher education and research cooperation. The United Nations University is establishing a sustainable development institute in Algeria, and a Regional Environmental Education Group will be set up in Tunisia and Morocco.

The Algeria-based research institute for sustainable development was approved at the 59th meeting of the council of the United Nations University, or UNU, held in Tokyo last month.

The Japan-based UNU will establish the institute, with the aim of strengthening the presence of the UNU in the region and intensifying research and training interactions across North Africa.

"The institute will provide us with an exceptionally high leadership, especially since there are not a lot of institutes of its kind in the world," Mohammed Saghir, president of Algeria’s National Economic and Social Council, or CNES, was quoted as saying to the Algeria Press Service.

The new institution is in line with UNU’s strategic plan, which calls for strengthening its presence in and interactions with UNU host countries, knowledge dissemination and sharing of teaching best practice and research outcomes, and promoting UNU postgraduate programmes.

Meanwhile Letizia Moratti, Italy’s education and research minister, has signed a number of agreements with the Tunisian and Moroccan governments to create a new branch of the Euro-Mediterranean Space for Higher Education and Research, according to a 5 May report published by the Magharebia website.

The branch will focus on environmental research, biodiversity studies, renewable energy and agriculture.

Launched in 2003, the Euro-Mediterranean programme focuses on promoting distance learning in higher education through an e-learning network with staff and students from more than 30 universities in the Mediterranean region, with the aim of establishing deep institutional and academic relations.

At the national level, Morocco is setting up an observatory to monitor the development of its education and research system and support the work of higher education students, researchers and academics.

Among other things, the national database will review the higher education sector, publish information on it and connect institutions into a network for decision-making.

According to a 17 April report in Al Fanar, the database will collect a wide variety of information related to higher education and research, including numbers of students, and indicators for the national education budget, research, teaching and higher education infrastructure. It will also track activities at the country’s 15 public universities and many private ones.

The project, funded by the Supreme Education Council, also aims to expand regionally and collect data about other countries’ education systems, to make comparative studies possible.