IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2005


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year


University Co-operation in Mediterranean Countries

Enric Olivé Serret

Director of the Euromed Observatory for Intercultural Affairs and Human Rights
Catalan Cooperation Agency – Rovira i Virgili University, Tarragona

Ten years on, after the Declaration of Barcelona, all analysts agree and emphasize the fact that one of the most important advances in the Process has arisen in the field of educational cooperation and, more precisely, in higher and university education.  These advances have not only been visible as a result of community assistance, but have been noticeable mainly due to the important role that university institutions have taken on, thus reintroducing an old tradition.  However, there is a sociological factor which should not be underestimated; the fact that a large number of the directing and leading members of universities today formed part of what we might call the nineteen-sixty eight generation, which is to say, those who grew up with the ideals of that famous “revolution” and with this socio-political conscience and who, most probably, far from the principles of that revolt, have maintained their altruist spirit and one of cooperation.  At the same time, it refers to a generation of university leaders who carried out their studies just before the end of the decolonisation process and who, therefore, shared another perception of the process of liberation and that of north-south relations.

The interaction at the outset of the Barcelona Process, the presence of two generations of university leaders and a certain return to the old tradition of university solidarity, has given rise to a strengthening of the networks, first, most certainly, between universities on an individual basis and later between university institutions.

One should recall that the Declaration of Barcelona in 1995 particularly affected “the essential nature of the development of human resources, both with regard to education and training of young people, in particular, and in the field of culture”.  Later on, it was declared necessary to carry out “a long-lasting policy of educational and cultural programmes”.

The strengthening, therefore, of the role of universities as the fundamental agents in a civil society, promoted exchanges and the creation of co-existing networks between universities on both shores of the Mediterranean.  It should be pointed out that these networks were in existence before the different European programmes resulting from the Process of Barcelona and the introduction of the latter found an ideal breeding ground for their success. Indeed, first the Med-campus programme, in particular, and then the Tempus-Meda programme,  which, while insufficient,  was very effective, and opened up the way for this interuniversity cooperation to become noticeable.

In the bases of the Tempus programme it is declared, following the Declaration of Barcelona, that the latter’s aim is “to contribute to the structural development of higher education, including the improvement of human resources and professional qualifications adapted to the economic reform and, in like manner, contribute to the development of structures in public administration and in matters of teaching in the target countries.

The activities in the Tempus-Meda programme have coincided with the growing need of higher educationestablishments, as acknowledged by UNESCO, to become internationalised, which is to say, to increase the international and cultural component in their formative activities of research and of service to the community, with the aim of increasing their academic excellence and its pertinent contribution to social and economic improvement.  This is a long-standing university tradition which has made the collaboration with their counterparts in the rest of the world easier.

However, as UNESCO and OCDE have pointed out, this internationalisation and cooperation must be accompanied by the pertinent mechanisms which guarantee the quality of a higher education.

It is, therefore, necessary to be very cautious at the time of taking stock of cooperation since 1995.  That is to say, that although we have seen that the Declaration of Barcelona refers to the importance of universities as social agents of a high level, in practise, the European Commission has not been of much assistance, at least not before the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001.  We should recall that, in the assessment made by  the European Commission of the first five years of the Barcelona Process, at no time was any mention made of educational cooperation and even less so of the importance of higher education.  Indeed it was not until December 2002 that notice for an examination was given by Tempus-Meda and, in all fairness, it should be said that this programme was made available to Meda countries on the insistence of the Spanish Foreign Minister at the time.

As it has been acknowledged by certain European officials in charge of the programme, the quality of the projects put forward has surpassed that of other Tempus regions, with a 60% success rate.  In this manner, higher education has been consolidated in its role of agent and has played a leading role in the preparation of the free exchange zone and in the EuroMediterranean Association as a whole, but particularly in the strengthening of the civil society in that area.

In this framework of EuroMediterranean and multilateral university cooperation a constant dialogue has been made possiblewhich has resulted in a flow of communication which, of course, has had a great impact on the perception of culture of all thoseconcerned, above all bearing in mind the mobilization of human resources that the Tempus-Meda  programme has generated.

However, one should insist that the European Commission’s university “vocation” has only become evident in the last two or three years, which is to say, in the latter part of the decade from the start of the Barcelona Process.  We might add,  in like manner, that the Erasmus programme was initially approved by the EU with certain reluctance, only to prove finally that it was much more effective for the European structure than many other seemingly more competent European programmes and the Tempus-Meda programme has also proved its efficiency in the structuring of the EuroMediterranean Partnership.

In recent times, and nearing the date of the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the Conference in Barcelona, two declarations bear out the success and perceptionof the Mediterranean university cooperation programmes.

The first, being the work programme to strengthen the EuroMediterranean association, made public by the Commission in April 2005 where, in an explicit and priority manner, it was declared, as an essential objective of this plan of work, the increase in the quality of education and the commitment by the EC to increase by 50% the financial aid devoted to  education and to set up a system of networks for grants for university studies in Europe, reserving a high number of places for women from the south.

The second, was the report on the ten years of the Barcelona Process, prepared by EuroMesco in May 2005 where it was acknowledged that education has gained a growing visibility in the Partnership initiatives and that there is a need for the strengthening of the Tempus-Meda programme to guarantee a “ mutual understanding and knowledge between countries, and guarantee the conditions for young people to participate in public life and, especially, for women while ensuring and giving priority to a more structured educative policy”.  However, in the same report it is acknowledged that cooperation in the field of higher education comes up againsta lack of knowledge of the educational structures and systems on the one hand and on the other, that this limits the prospects of cooperation and becomes an obstacle for the commitment by the universities as the main actors in the Partnership.

Although these difficulties do exist, it is still possible to establish university networks that, with the help of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), will make the plan for joint strategies easier, faced withthe challenges of interculturality and globalisation. In this sense, the interests of southern and northern universities (particularly those of Mediterranean universities in EU countries) are coincidental and very committed to modernization and the guaranteeing of quality in the educational system.  The leaders on both shores find themselves more and more immersed in similar processes.  Therefore, the Process of Bologna has influenced both one side and the other, so that one can find similar processes of adaptation in all the Mediterranean Area.

From our experience of Tempus-Meda programmes, and others of EuropeAid, we would point out five key points with regard to the difficulties found in this inter-university Partnership cooperation:

  1. In general, of the lack of a culture of quality in southern universities.
  2. The danger of certain procedures being present in administration which are not clear.
  3. The difficulties of ensuring positive discrimination criteria for women.
  4. The mutual lack of knowledge of the educational systems and procedures.
  5. The problems deriving from the low level of linguistic skills among students from the south.

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that these five matters existed until quite recently in our own universities.

However, it is fair to point out the factors that have been clearly positive in this cooperation.

  1. The enormous interest and commitment of the southern universities in this cooperation.
  2. The expectations generated among the civil society.
  3. The real possibilities of the creation of new leading organizations.

Finally, and with reference to another European programme which is not directly bound to the Partnership nor to EuroMediterranean cooperation, but which will greatly affect university life in the area, the Erasmus Mundus programme, which has aroused an unusual amount of interest, more than ever before.  The programme responds in fact to the community concern for the low level of interest towards our universities due to the pressure that American universities exert on universities all over the world.  Therefore, this is a programme which aims to make universities in the old world more competitive on a world scale and which, consequently, aspires to educate future leaders from developing countries “European style”.  However, in like manner, this leadership and this capacity of appeal of European universities must also have scope in the Partnership, as a result of the necessary cooperation between universities in the southern Mediterranean area.  While it is true that the Erasmus Mundus programme is not a project of great magnitude for the time being, with less than forty Masters chosen between 2004 and 2005, in the long run, it should become an attractive referent and one of contrasted quality which will signify, of course, a point of reference for the best students from all countries and also for those from the Mediterranean developing countries (MDC).

All things considered, it should be said that the EU has only quite recently become aware of the importance of cooperation in the university sphere, but in the short term, it has established itself as the most extraordinary and most far reaching driving force for the creation of an authentic area of integration for the EuroMediterranean community.