Inter-university platform for Middle East, North Africa

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa – MENA – are planning to set up an inter-university collaborative platform in an attempt to strengthen the capacity of higher education managers and reinforce partnerships among universities.

This was announced at a conference on higher education in the MENA region held in Rabat, Morocco, from 4-5 February.

The inter-university collaborative platform will help to create a space for exchange to strengthen South-South and North-South university partnerships by cultivating dialogue between policy-makers, researchers, university managers and scientists on the one hand, and the media, civil society and the private sector on the other.

It will also encourage MENA countries to rethink higher education reform policies to ensure greater employability for universities graduates.

Besides promoting a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in setting up the university governance reform axes, the platform will increase knowledge of national, regional and global challenges regarding university governance and the existing mechanisms.

A key speaker at the conference Michael Worton, emeritus professor of arts and formerly vice-provost at University College London, told University World News the conference had enabled higher education leaders in Morocco “to discuss their own challenges and to discuss with others from the MENA region and beyond possible ways forward in identifying the main necessary reforms and how to manage their engagement with these”.

Graduates' employability

Although the Arab region has witnessed heavy investment in higher education in the past decade, the quality of human capital produced does not yet adequately match the needs of the labour market, according to a 26 January Alkhabeer report.

Statistics on Arabs aged between 15 and 29 show that in Saudi Arabia 43% of tertiary graduates are unemployed, while 22% and 14% of educated youth are still seeking jobs in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates respectively, the report stated.

In order to create jobs for the 11 million new entrants to the labour market annually, the report suggested a clear need for national strategies focused on promoting disciplines required by the job market, to ensure optimal skill matching.

For example, Morocco’s Idmaj plan provides professional training for young graduates and the Taehil programme offers new graduates pre-employment skills workshops.

To ensure greater employability for graduates, Worton said: “All universities should ideally ensure that all students, whatever their level and whatever their discipline, are explicitly helped to develop life skills, employability skills and team-working skills.

“There are already some examples of courses in entrepreneurial skills and it would be good for these courses to be used as models for other courses in other universities in order to build a culture of enterprise, whereby students could envisage setting up their own small or micro-enterprises as an alternative or a complement to finding employment.”

University governance reform

MENA countries needed to place their university governance reform axes in the right direction, Worton added: “There is much that is well-intentioned and even visionary.

“However, it is essential to build greater consensus on the reforms and on the urgency and priority of them. It is vital also that, once a good level of consensus has been built, decisions are taken soon, followed by action, with clear implementation plans and both risk assessments and impact assessments.

“Although the MENA region has many challenges, it also has excellent potential in terms of human resources and some visionary and effective leaders."

“But there is a certain culture of negativity that needs to be overcome as a matter of urgency, and university communities and their leaders need to believe in – and to proclaim – the need for reform,” Worton concluded.