Too few exchanges between Med region universities

'Europe needs them', but Arabs prefer France, UK and US to Italy

30 September, 16:40

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, SEPTEMBER 30 - The two-day meeting 'Neighbourhood Policy and the Mediterranean Youth' got underway in Rome on Tuesday.

    It will focus on the importance of securing greater resources for professional training and university education in the Mediterranean area and how this could serve as a sort of 'informal diplomacy' to alleviate the ongoing conflicts in the area. The meeting will stress that too few students from the southern Mediterranean come to the northern part for educational purposes, and even fewer Europeans opt to study in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) area. The meeting is being held at the La Sapienza University in Rome with the collaboration of the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED), the French Embassy in Italy and the French Institute in Italy. Assessments of the situation show that too few students from the southern Mediterranean are able to move easily enough in Europe to begin or continue their education and even fewer EU students choose to study in the Arab world. An extremely low number of Italian students are in the MENA region. ''Only six Italian students are studying in Jordan, for example,'' noted Marcello Scalisi, UNIMED executive director. The main cause - in addition to economic difficulties - is difficulty with the language. Too few students from the Arab world make their way to Italy, as well.

    ''Some 30% of students from MENA go to France,'' Scalisi said, ''followed by a large share that go to the US or the UK.'' ''This is true of most of Europe,'' said Sultan Abu Orabi, secretary general of Association of Arab Universities (AUA).

    ''Many Arab students prefer to go to the US instead of studying in Europe.'' This is a strategic and economic mistake by the EU, he said. ''Europe,'' he warned, ''needs workers of Arab origins, now and especially in the future.'' There is also the issue of the revenue generated by Arab students, who spend money on their education and living costs in the country they study in. This can be seen in the US, he noted, ''where the flow from MENA nations has brought in billions of dollars''. Abu Orabi said that the main obstacles are linguistic ones - since few universities are able to offer entire degree programs in English - and ones related to the difficulty of securing visas. ''Too little mobility and too many barriers'' stand in the way, he said. Many say that where diplomacy and politics have failed, universities can instead play an important role by ''bringing in an informal sort of diplomacy in the form of scholars, who do not have political affiliations and are not tied to a religious creed''. Italy is ''ready to do its part'' and ''is committed to not closing the door on the Mediterranean'', said Federico Cinquepalmi, from the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, in his speech at the meeting on Tuesday. (ANSAmed).

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