Euro-Mediterranean student mobility initiative

Five North African countries – Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia – along with 38 European and Mediterranean states will benefit from a new framework initiative to promote student mobility across the region.

The first working meeting towards elaborating on a Euro-Mediterranean student mobility framework initiative took place on 27 November at the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean, or UfM, in Barcelona, Spain.

The initiative, which will be presented to UfM member states next year, aims to stimulate socio-economic development, particularly in the southern Mediterranean, by supporting training in line with national development priorities and the demands of the labour market.

With a particular focus on South-South and North-South mobility, the new initiative will include creating a ‘study map’ outlining the current state of play regarding student mobility within Euro-Mediterranean countries and identifying key areas for development.

Besides facilitating the mobility of students and young professionals from the Mediterranean and developing regional pilot projects in the field of mobility, the initiative will provide mobility grants and facilitate entry and residency procedures.

There are also several projects under way including: the €136 million (US$186 million) Morocco-based Euro-Mediterranean University of Fez, which will be inaugurated in 2015; an initiative to promote self-employment and entrepreneurship among young women students; training and research on food security and rural development at the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies; and establishing Euro-Mediterranean masters and PhDs.

A positive development

Johan Robberecht, policy outreach coordinator and manager for European Union higher education and research projects at the Institute for European Studies at Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, said the international initiative would enhance reciprocity and diversity, boost capacity building and drive innovation and sustainability.

“But it will face several challenges including diverging institutional aims, the rigidities of multilateral frameworks, the difficulty of reconciling different practices in higher education institutions and conflicting research agendas,” Robberecht told University World News.

As a consequence, “the initiative's focus must be on clarifying the objectives associated with mobility actions. What do we want to achieve with a given mobility? Setting up a clearly spelled out incentive structure for students and academics, what is the short- and long-term added value of a given mobility?"

“And better aligning research agendas: which research objectives do we share? How can mobility participate in addressing common research interests?”

In this context, Robberecht added, the initiative should prioritise activity-bound mobility such as seminars, summer schools, conferences, policy seminars and virtual mobility. It should differentiate between short- and long-term mobility – for instance training and teaching exchange, fieldwork and resident researchers. And it should develop adapted administrative frameworks such as visa facilitation.

“Most important is to clearly define what mobility refers to,” said Robberecht. Traditionally, mobility is approached in a ‘descriptive’ way in higher education and by policy-makers, taking distinct levels – bachelor, masters, PhD, postdoctoral – as the starting point.

“Modifying the analytical framework of mobility from this descriptive to an analytical one would most probably benefit all. The nature of mobility is indeed of the upmost importance for institutional mobility.

“Focus should therefore be shifted from ‘which level’ to ‘which nature’: activity bound events, summer schools, workshops; short-term visiting researcher; long-term resident researcher; and career mobility,” Robberecht concluded.