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Developing a platform for dialogue: universities, ministries, entreprises. Solutions and challenges in Beirut 5-6 July

The second millennium has brought a new definition of employability. The requests for competences are increasingly demanding and transversal. Our lives are being shaped by « Innovation for entrepreneurship or « entrepreneurship for innovation ». Social development depends on it, and new jobs tend to focus on « graduates offering competences and not graduates simply looking for work». Therefore, Higher Education Institutions cannot distance themselves from the new demands of the job market and must ensure the connection between course offers and the new conditions for employability. In order to guarantee proper communication among stakeholders on the value of knowledge in innovation and on socio-economic advancement, it is important to gather university members, socio-economic decision-makers and ministerial bodies at the same table.

All these topics were discussed on the 5th and 6th July 2017, during the 4th thematic conference on “Innovation & Entrepreneurship”, organized within the framework of the RESUME project (European Union project financed under the Erasmus + Capacity Building program).

Works began on the 5th of July 2017 at 2pm at the Hadath Campus of the Lebanese University in Beirut. The goal of this conference has been to give the HEIs the necessary skills and to start a dialogue among the different stakeholders (HEIs, companies and political bodies) on the common challenge of increasing the employability of young graduates. During the conference, the project partners presented their best practices linked to the topic of innovation. Local and regional experts from the socio-economic environment also presented their experiences on this topic. The event was open to the public and about thirty Master’s and PhD students from the Lebanese University attended the two-day conference and the debates.

The conference was opened and inaugurated by Dr. Véronique Kazpard, lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences of the Lebanese University and Dr. Sélim Mekdessi, Professor at the Faculty of Management Sciences, and Dr. Silvia Marchionne, Project Manager of RESUME for UNIMED – Mediterranean Universities Union- lead of the project.

Dr. Eva Jimeno Sicilia, from the European Training Foundation (download the presentation here), introduced the theme of the conference and highlighted that unemployment had increased from 10 to 25% since 2010, in particular for women and young people. Among the key messages, Eva Jimeno Sicilia stressed the need to improve education and training systems, improve the basic skills of young people and work on new job creation mechanisms (especially for young people with a high level of education who are more likely to become NEET-not (engaged) in education, employment or training. “Entrepreneurship as a key competence could generate the necessary resilience. The growth and jobs should hold as important a place as other political areas in the growth and employment agenda.

Three different round tables took place during the conference. The first one was dedicated to “Technical platforms: A tool for strengthening innovation and entrepreneurship in university space” with the intervention of an external expert, Dr. Amgad Abdel-Rahim, Solution Delivery Manager of Schlumberger in Egypt.

He presented the creation of a technical thematic platform to the public that acts as a link in a strategy of university development towards entrepreneurship. To bring students closer to job opportunities and occupations in different fields, HEIs must develop curricula that meet the socio-economic needs and needs of the national, regional and international labour market.

The Thematic Technical Platforms bring together HEIs and socio-economic partners to promote the development of production and industrialization in different fields (for example, Schlumberger, which supports regional HEIs for the development of natural resources).

To this end, the integration of the PTTs at the regional Mediterranean level will:

  1. Support the visibility of university training;
  2. Create a link between academics and employers and decision-makers in different sectors of the Mediterranean area;
  3. Strengthen scientific cooperation and open new horizons of hiring between the Mediterranean region and the European area.

Other speakers, both internal and external to the project participated in the 2nd round table: “Innovative university courses: a curriculum closer to entrepreneurship and socio-economic needs”. This table was moderated by Mr. Hervé Sabourin, Middle East Director of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in Lebanon (download the presentation here), who presented employability schemes such as the TEMPUS OIPULES project, which reinforce the Orientation and Professional Insertion in the universities of Lebanon, Egypt and Syria through an information website on the academic paths and their outcomes (Boukrajobs). Sabourin also presented the strategy of the AUF on the development of student entrepreneurship in Lebanon through the setting up of a collaborative workspace on the French model PEPITE: «Student Centre for Innovation, Transfer And Entrepreneurship “, which includes 12 universities, MEES, CNRS, LAAS, DRC, Berytech, SmartEsa, Central Bank of Lebanon and Municipality of Beirut.

Dr. Aref Elsoufi, Coordinator of the Erasmus + program at national level (download the presentation here) and Dr. Georges Aoun, Dean of the Faculty of Management and Management of Saint Joseph University in Beirut (download the presentation here) participated in this round table. Elsoufi presented, in a regional and national context characterized by wars and conflicts, the absence of socio-economic development policies, and in a scenario of chaotic expansion of the education sector and lack of university-enterprise collaboration, the European Commission’s strategy for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in academia, for example through programs such as Erasmus +, Horizon 2020, COSME and the European Investment Bank’s funds. The key elements of this process are therefore Universities, teachers, learners and trainings, which have to interact with the socio-economic milieu. Dr. Aoun stressed that higher education does not have rapid continuous returns from the market, that bureaucracy delays responsiveness to changes in the environment, that it is difficult to anticipate changes in the environment and in static forces within HEI, and that it is rare to for professors to be inclined to develop innovative training programs which correspond to the new realities of the market. In order to address these problems, it is in the interest of higher education systems to provide graduates with analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills in a highly dynamic environment characterized by a rapid increase in uncertainty and a globalization of labour and consumer markets.  Above all, it is essential to develop the ability of learners to become entrepreneurs in order to act as agents of change in society by enabling graduates to acquire online knowledge to improve their skills after graduation and develop their capacity to innovate in a network.

On 6 July, the 3rd round table on “Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity: Fundamental Drivers of the Economy” was moderated by Fouad Zmokhol, President of the Lebanese Businessmen Association (RDCL World), Rabih Sabra, Director General of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon and Bassel Aoun, Project Manager of Kafalat iSME Program in Lebanon. They stressed the need to be aware of risks, especially for young entrepreneurs and the fact that the entrepreneurial individualism that characterizes the Lebanese context but also the regional one is not necessarily a negative aspect or a weakness. It is necessary to recognize this individualism as an opportunity in the labour market. that will be cultivated and nourished during their career. Another key message highlighted by the experts during the debate was the importance of understanding how to absorb graduates and the unemployed who come from the informal sector of work that recently developed in Lebanon and in the MENA region. In summary, entrepreneurship should be characterized by three elements: perception, passion and perseverance – Dr. Zmokhol concluded.

All the good practices presented by the partners Of the RESUME project are available at this link: https://www.resumeproject.eu/bonnes-pratiques/4eme-conference-de-formation/ and also a press review of the event.