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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 2 July 2012

Commission launches new dialogue on higher education with Southern Mediterranean countries

Brussels 2 July 2012 – The European Commission has launched a new dialogue with Southern Mediterranean countries on higher education policies and programmes as part of its roadmap for anchoring progress in the region following the 2011 'Arab Spring'. Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, is hosting a two-day event in Brussels (2-3 July) with Ministers and senior officials from Southern Mediterranean countries to assess the challenges they face in higher education and to see how the EU can strengthen its cooperation and support for them in the future. George Demosthenous, the Cypriot Minister of Education and Culture, is representing the EU Presidency at the event. Other Ministers taking part include Fathi Akkari, Libya's Deputy Minister for Higher Education.

Speaking at the launch, Commissioner Vassiliou said: "The future of Southern Mediterranean countries lies of course in the hands of their people and leaders. But the European Union is ready to lend its support to political, economic and social development. We have therefore moved to anchor our new partnerships in joint commitments to the values we all cherish: democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law and social justice. Education is central to our efforts. In order to reach our objectives of a democratic and prosperous Southern Mediterranean, we need to concentrate on young people."

The European Commission has significantly increased funding for the Southern Mediterranean through its international higher education programmes, Tempus and Erasmus Mundus. Tempus, which supports the modernisation of higher education, has received an additional € 12.5 million in 2012 and 2013, taking total spending to € 29 million a year. Erasmus Mundus, which promotes European higher education and intercultural cooperation through cooperation with non-EU countries, will allocate € 80 million in Southern and Eastern neighbouring countries in 2012-2013, more than double the amount initially foreseen.

The new policy dialogue covers Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Syria may be invited to join it at a future date.


Objectives of Dialogue with Southern Mediterranean countries on higher education policies and programmes:

  • Provide a regional platform for policy dialogue on education, higher education, vocational education and training and youth issues;

  • Share good practice and experience, in particular using the experience gathered through Tempus and Erasmus Mundus;

  • Evaluate EU assistance and identify further needs for support;

  • Promote regional cooperation;

  • To support partners in their modernisation and reform of higher education systems and promote their voluntary convergence towards Bologna Process and the European Research and Higher Education Area;

  • To significantly improve the knowledge and use of EU-supported programmes (Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Jean Monnet, Marie Curie) to support the reform of higher education systems;

  • To inform partner countries about increased future opportunities under 'Erasmus for All' the new EU programme for education, training, youth and sport (2014-2020);

  • To support intra-regional cooperation and mobility.

Main challenges facing higher education in Southern Mediterranean countries

There is an insufficient number of well-trained teachers able to teach an increasing number of students. In some countries, low salaries have led staff members to take up extra work, which has a negative impact on the quality of teaching and on the amount and quality of research carried out. The professional development of staff members is restricted and programmes to upgrade their qualifications and their teaching skills are limited. The weak link of programmes proposed by universities to the needs of the labour market is presently a central issue in all national development programmes and projects.

Student enrolment rates have soared, particularly in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, in recent years. High student/teacher ratio is a factor leading to the lowering of standards in teaching and learning. Insufficient funding is an on-going major concern and it is having a serious impact on the quality and relevance of higher education.

EU funding for higher education cooperation with Southern Mediterranean countries

Tempus started in 1990 in Central Europe; eight Southern Mediterranean countries (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia) joined the programme in 2002. Israel joined in 2008 and Libya in 2010. Since then € 143 million Euros has been allocated to the region including €87 million (61%) for the Middle East and € 56 million (39 %) for North Africa.

Overall the budget was used to finance (2002–2011):

  • 221 joint projects targeted at institutions (approximately 60% in Middle East and 40% in North Africa);

  • 63 structural measures targeted at national level (approximately 55% in Middle East and 45% in North Africa);

  • 632 individual mobility grants (until 2006 only).

Erasmus Mundus: Between 2007 and 2011, the Commission has funded study opportunities in Europe for 1 385 students (including doctorate and post doctorate level) from North Africa and the Middle East as well as study/ teaching opportunities for 203 academics. Of the 1 385 students, 267 came from Egypt, 169 from Tunisia, 179 from Algeria, 213 from Morocco, 181 from Israel, 165 from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 94 from Jordan, 64 from Syria, and 53 from Lebanon.

For the period 2004–2011 the Commission has also provided full (2-3 year) scholarships for 275 students from the region to participate in joint Erasmus Mundus Masters and doctoral programmes. The Masters students came from Egypt (57), Israel (46), Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Tunisia (around 30 students each).

More information

Erasmus Mundus


Androulla Vassiliou's website

Follow Androulla Vassiliou onTwitter @VassiliouEU

Contacts :

Dennis Abbott (+32 2 295 92 58)

Dina Avraam (+32 2 295 96 67)

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