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Arab Euro Conference focuses on strengthening research collaborations across the Mediterranean

The fourth Arab Euro Conference on Higher Education (AECHE) on “Research for sustainable societies – the role of universities” took place at the University Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco from 24 to 26 April.

The event brought together over 150 participants – higher education leadership, researchers and research managers, doctoral candidates, high-level policy makers and representatives of regional and bi-regional institutions. The conference was preceded by a workshop on collaborative doctoral education where participants exchanged views on grand challenges of energy, water and food.

Enhancing research collaboration and facilitating research capacity building were among the topical issues that were discussed at the event. Most Arab countries (except for some of the Gulf countries) tend to have generally low public and private investment in research accompanied by a lack of policy support and leadership. At the same time, higher education institutions are facing difficulties, with low funding, excessive pressure to publish and infringements on institutional autonomy and academic freedom, which undermine their ability to contribute to society and hamper research.

Both the Arab and European participants expressed their concerns regarding the current political climate in their regions and globally, and agreed with the statement, “No real functioning, sustainable research system without academic, personal and political freedom.” There was also a clear agreement that universities need to play a more visible and active role in society highlighting their contributions while protecting their mission and values.

International exchange and cooperation was identified as a means to address and overcome some of the current challenges in higher education. Open Access was recognised as one of the key areas for collaboration and exchange of experience between both the regions. Participants also voiced their frustration regarding a lack of joint Arab projects and platforms for research. Communicating international opportunities to young researchers and embedding them in strong institutional cooperation was indeed a point of interest, in particular from the perspective of participating young researchers and doctoral candidates.

During the event, the evolution in learning and teaching was explored with regard to doctoral training, and also more broadly. Teaching needs to shift from “broadcasting knowledge” to encouraging critical thinking and engagement. As a follow-up measure, it has been agreed to organise training for doctoral supervision, which would be of interest to institutions from both regions. This and other issues have been addressed in the joint statement, which also addresses the Euromed Ministerial Conference on Research and Innovation taking place on 3 and 4 May in Valletta, Malta.

The conference took place under the auspices of King Mohammed VI. It was attended by Khalid Samadi, Secretary of State to the Minister of National Education, in charge of Higher Education and Scientific Research; Cristina Russo, Director for International Cooperation, on behalf of Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation; Paul J Pace, Personal Representative of the Minister for Education and Employment of Malta, and Sergi Farré, the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean. The event also saw the inauguration of the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED) Regional Office in Rabat which is located at the Mohammed V University.

The next AECHE conference will take place at the University of Murcia, Spain from 21 to 22 June 2018. For more information about AECHE, please visit the project website.

The original article is here