Research ‘space’ for Western Mediterranean, Maghreb

Member states of the 5+5 Dialogue initiative, a sub-regional forum for dialogue including five countries of the Arab Maghreb Union and five countries of the Western Mediterranean, have agreed to set up a ‘space’ for research and innovation to promote cooperation in science, technology and higher education.

The Maghreb countries involved are Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and the Western Mediterranean nations are France, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.

The new initiative was outlined in a ‘Rabat Declaration’, which was endorsed at the first conference of ministers of higher education and research of the 5+5 Dialogue states, held in Rabat, Morocco, from 20 to 21 September. The conference was organised by Morocco’s Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Training.

"We firmly believe in promoting, through this dialogue, the activities of exchange and regional scientific and technological cooperation, establishing frameworks and mechanisms of global development, and working to take up common challenges on a fair basis with beneficial impacts for all,” Algeria's Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Mohamed Mebarki, was quoted as saying.

The ministerial conference is in line with recommendations endorsed by a meeting of the foreign ministers of the 5+5 Dialogue countries held on 16 April in Nouakchott, Mauritania, that called for extending cooperation to the higher education, research and technology sectors.

Space for research and innovation

According to a communiqué from Morocco's higher education ministry, the Rabat conference approved the creation of “an integrated space for research and innovation that links the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea” and determined the “axes of cooperation in the field of scientific research between member states”, as well as developing methods and mechanisms of implementation.

The development of the space for research and innovation, or SRI, will help in overcoming the fragmentation of research along national and institutional lines, which prevents the region from reaching its full potential in terms of research and innovation.

The SRI will encompass all transnational research and development activities, programmes and policies in the 5+5 Dialogue member states, including cross-border cooperation.

Although the Maghreb countries have high innovation potential, their innovation systems currently suffer from several challenges including weak university-industry links, a major imbalance between higher education and economic needs, as well as weak professional and entrepreneurial skills in university graduates, according to a recent report, Emerging Challenges of Innovation Systems in Maghreb Countries.

To improve performance in higher education, science and technology, the SRI will enable research and technology institutions, universities and science-based businesses around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to circulate, compete and cooperate across borders.

This initiative will give them access to a region-wide space for knowledge and technology in which synergies will be able to be fully exploited.

The SRI will facilitate mobility between countries, academia and industry through developing policy actions, joint programmes, scientific projects, technology transfer initiatives and funding schemes that aim to support individual researchers and students, as well as universities and research institutions.

This Rabat Declaration lays the first building blocks for the development of joint action in converging systems of scientific research and innovation, and for establishing effective mechanisms for cooperation between the 5+5 Dialogue countries, the communiqué concludes.