EUA Newsletter 11 | 10/06/2016
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Arab-Euro Conference on Higher Education addresses societal mission and refugees

The Third Arab-Euro Conference on Higher Education (AECHE) took place from 25 to 27 May 2016 at the University of Barcelona in Spain. Under the theme, “Opportunities and Challenges for Arab and European universities in fulfilling their societal mission,” it brought together more than 200 rectors and other academic representatives, mainly from Arab countries and Europe. Education ministers from Egypt and Morocco addressed the audience and participation was high-level.

AECHE3 ConferenceThe response of universities to refugees was one of the focuses of the conference. Participants discussed various initiatives on providing refugees access to education, including traditional, online and blended programmes. A former Syrian Deputy Minister for Higher Education, now based in France, presented an approach for providing online access to education. Another example came from the NGO Kiron and the University of Kassel, who collaborate to enrol students in online courses that are free of charge. The Technical University of Berlin emphasised the need to turn refugees as rapidly as possible into regular students, which the university does with the support of strong public funding. The Central European University in Hungary reported on its efforts to assist young people in obtaining the language and transversal skills necessary for employment and education. 

How universities can better integrate students and scholars from migrant backgrounds was the topic of several presentations, among them from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and St Joseph University in Lebanon, which called for more interuniversity cooperation. The European Municipalities Network in Cyprus stressed the need for coordination at both national and local levels, in which higher education institutions can play an important role.  

Representatives from the European Commission’s Directorates General on Education and Research presented concrete measures for refugees that the EU has in place or is preparing, including funding mechanisms as a way to develop partnerships and networks for research collaboration. An 11.5 million euro call is scheduled to be launched in July on topical issues such as migration drivers, skills for refugees, integration policies and measures. Funding is also available under the Science for Society call, which provides small budgets for university projects for refugees. 

“For us, this is direct follow-up to the Paris Declaration and the 2015 Bologna Yerevan Communiqué  that European ministers have agreed upon,” explained Lesley Wilson, Secretary General of EUA. “Addressing these issues is not always easy in a European, or even EU context. In this regard we were very pleased that our colleagues from the Association of Arab Universities agreed to join forces for a conference on this important issue.”

Academic freedom was another major topic of discussion. A representative of Scholars at Risk emphasised that the university should be a safe place to learn and discuss, and referred to the UNESCO recommendations, as well as to the examples of Tunisia and Norway which have made specific provisions for academic freedom in their legislation. Meanwhile, other presentations showed different realities. Two EUA university members from Ukraine reported on experiences of being displaced and the resulting challenges for students and staff. The permanent presence of an Israeli military compound on the Palestinian Technical University campus is not only disturbing the daily routine, but poses health and safety risks.   

The Fourth Arab-Euro Conference on Higher Education (AECHE 4) will take place in the spring of 2017 and will be hosted by University Mohammed V in Rabat, Morocco. It will address Arab-European research collaboration with a thematic focus on natural resources and environmental issues. EUA will provide more information to members this autumn. 
AECHE, launched in 2013, is a platform for Arab-European higher education cooperation and exchange. The Conference was organised by the AECHE Consortium, which comprises the Association of Arab Universities (AARU), EUA and the University of Barcelona, which hosts the Secretariat of the initiative, with the collaboration of AECHE’s enlarged Steering Committee, where the Union for the Mediterranean (UFM), UNICA and UNIMED also participate.

For more information on the AECHE 3  conference, please click here.

To learn more about AECHE in general, please click here.

Photo ©University of Barcelona 

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