Academic exchange pilot to boost science and innovation

The Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation launched the pilot phase of the 'TAFAHUM' project to enhance quality by promoting collaboration between a number of Maghreb universities and the France-based Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie.

The pilot phase of the TAFAHUM project has been launched to enhance scientific and technological development in the Arab region by promoting collaboration between a number of the Maghreb universities and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, or AUF, in France.

The TAFAHUM Project on Students and Faculty Exchange among Islamic World Universities initiative was launched by the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or ISESCO, at the 37th session of the executive council of its 52 member states held in Rabat on 4 October, according to the session's final report.

Originally unveiled by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member states, the project aims to improve the quality of science education and boost innovation levels in the region.

The overall state of science at universities and research institutes in the Islamic states is poor despite recent improvements and the strong participation of women among those studying science, according to a 2015 report, Science at Universities of the Muslim World, published by the Pakistan-based Muslim World Science Initiative.

World rankings

Only five Islamic states are above the world average in the innovation index, and only 12 are above the world average in the knowledge economy index, according to the Research and Scientific Development in OIC Countries report.

While the three oldest universities in the world are located in the Islamic world – the Morocco-based University of Al-Karaouine, the Egypt-based Al-Azhar University and the Iran-based Nizamiyya – none of the region’s 1,700 universities are included in recent top-100 university rankings.

To tackle this situation, the TAFAHUM project seeks to enhance the exchange of information, experience, researchers and students in order to promote cooperation in scientific and technological development, as well as boost innovation in universities.

Based on the Arabic word for 'mutual understanding', the TAFAHUM project was originally adopted at the 7th Islamic Conference of Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research held in Rabat in 2014. It was aimed at boosting academic cooperation between universities in the Islamic world, bringing academic communities closer together, and sharing experiences and good practice in terms of training and research.

The project is also aimed at developing mobility among students, researchers and staff of private and public higher learning institutions as well as developing a university-enterprise synergy as the cornerstone of higher education development, along with promoting a culture of innovation in institutions.

Soft skills

The project will also promote a better understanding among young people and educational staff of cultural diversity by helping them acquire the skills necessary for personal development, employability and active citizenship.

The pilot phase will be carried out in partnership with the AUF, the specialist higher education and research agency for the Francophonie.

The pilot will facilitate the exchange of 10 students between two universities from Morocco and two from Tunisia. The institutions are the University of Sousse and University of Monastir in Tunisia; and Abdelmalek Essaadi University of Tangier-Tétouan and Ibn Tofail University of Kenitra in Morocco.

At the launch of the project, ISESCO Director General Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri was quoted in a report on the ISESCO website as saying: "The project will create an advanced credit transfer system among universities to ensure homogeneous validation of curricula, recognition of qualifications and improve communication."

He also pointed out that the launch of the pilot phase this year would give an idea about the possible extension of the project’s programmes in the short and medium terms.

"This would ultimately ensure a healthy upbringing for the rising student generations, based on solidarity, cooperation, partnership and pride in belonging to common cultural, spiritual and civilisation origins," Altwaijri said.