Rectors strengthen friendships with Francophone association

Rectors of universities in North Africa and higher education institution members of the Francophone University Association (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie), or AUF, have agreed to enhance partnerships to use scientific diplomacy to advance the economic, social and cultural development of these countries and the region.

This was the main outcome of the first regional conference of rectors from institutions in North Africa and members of AUF, held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, from 19-20 October. It was organised by AUF and the Mauritanian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

AUF is a global network of French-speaking higher education and research institutions. Founded almost 60 years ago, AUF brings together 944 universities, colleges, university networks and scientific research centres that use French in 116 countries.

AUF has 10 regional offices: Central Africa and the Great Lakes; Northern Africa; West Africa; North, South and Central America; Asia-Pacific; the Caribbean; Central and Eastern Europe; Western Europe; the Middle East and (the island states in) the Indian Ocean.

The conference, focusing strongly on building cooperation between North Africa and France, comes amid some anti-French sentiment in West Africa. France’s suspension of student mobility with Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in September has also contributed to the strained diplomatic relationships.

Building cooperation

The conference participants agreed to enhance cooperation and promote bilateral and multilateral partnerships in the fields of graduate employment, digitalisation, valorisation of scientific research, and improving the governance of African universities.

At the conference, the rector of the AUF, Professor Slim Khalbous, indicated that this initiative is part of a global programme aimed at strengthening scientific diplomacy in the French-speaking world by promoting the role of universities, research centres and scientists.

He added that the idea of these conferences entails developing and strengthening the network of member establishments of the scientific Francophonie to drive intraregional collaboration projects, stressing that plans are under way for holding 10 regional conferences.

Khalbous said that the conference in Mauritania is the first in North Africa since the establishment of the African Francophonie Agency at regional level.

He added that the year 2022 was marked by the adoption by the ministers of education in 40 countries of a French-speaking scientific diplomacy statement proposed by the agency.

He indicated that the statement calls for the mobilisation of all stakeholders to enhance scientific cooperation in French-speaking countries and “respond to the societal challenges of our time, such as global warming, health crises, or the lack of employment opportunities”.

Scientific Francophonie in North Africa

At the conference, AUF’s activities at its member institutions in North Africa were presented. Based in Rabat, Morocco since 2012, the AUF North Africa regional directorate manages a network of 128 universities and higher education institutions in five countries, namely, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

It has three national offices in the region and French-speaking digital campuses in Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania, along with one national office in Tunisia as well as a network of French-speaking employability centres implemented in partnership with AUF member establishments.

On 5 October, three Centres of Francophone Employability (CEF) were inaugurated at Hassan II University of Casablanca, Moulay Ismail University of Meknes and Chouaïb Doukkali University of El Jadida.

By the end of 2023, two other employability centres will be hosted by the Sultan Moulay Slimane University of Béni Mellal and Mohamed Premier University of Oujda.

The main objective of the CEF Maroc network is to contribute to positioning higher education as a real lever for development through the continuous strengthening of students’ skills and the dissemination of the culture of entrepreneurship.

This initiative contributes to one of the axes of the AUF’s 2021-25 strategy, namely the employability and entrepreneurship of students and young graduates.

Last March, an International Academy of Scientific Francophonie – l’Académie Internationale de la Francophonie Scientifique, or AIFS – was also set up in Morocco to advance the use of French as a scientific language, which has been on the decline despite a growth in the day-to-day usage of French.