A quality higher education for all in the Mediterranean: Towards a renewed higher education agenda
- With 40% of the population under the age of 25 in some areas of the Mediterranean, youth unemployment and under-employment in the region has been among the highest in the world for more than two decades.
- Unemployment is highest amongst those with tertiary education (as opposed to those without) reaching an average of 30% across the region
- According to 32% of enterprises, one reason for this is the skills mismatch, indicating that Higher Education needs to be at the centre of regional development.
1 June 2021, Barcelona and Marseille. The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) held a workshop this week to discuss the future of higher education in the region.
The Mediterranean region holds one of the youngest populations in the world, which has contributed to creating a large university student population: across the entire Euro-Mediterranean region, this totals over 33 million. This has significant implications for labour markets in the region: the World Bank estimates that in the MENA region, 300 million young people will join the labour market by 2050, requiring both the creation of millions of jobs and an adequately prepared and skilled young generation.
These demographic trends in turn give education a key strategic role in the region: for a prosperous Mediterranean, quality education systems, which train and skill an employable and empowered youth, are imperative. Yet education in the region faces several challenges, and is failing to fulfil its potential for economic growth and social mobility, with many young people graduating without the skills and knowledge required for today’s changing labour markets.
To this end, the joint event offered a space for a dynamic discussion to lay the foundation for a renewed higher education agenda in the region. Decision-makers, practitioners and experts from Ministries, the OECD, World Bank, university and student networks, and UfM-labelled projects such EMUNI came together to discuss topics relevant to the improvement of higher education quality in the region and to share best practice and recommendations.
The meeting was divided into two panels: the first addressed three key topics for the Higher Education agenda in the region (employability, internationalisation and governance of HE institutions), and the second panel discussed the Euro-Mediterranean Area of Higher Education and Research.
In 2007, Euro-Med Ministers met in Cairo and declared an aspiration to create a Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Area. Almost 15 years later, there is a clear need today to rethink the needs and aims of higher education against current challenges and opportunities, paving the way for a new agenda for higher education in the Mediterranean region, especially in the aftermath of the disruption caused by COVID-19 on Mediterranean universities.
Building on this momentum, UfM and CMI are synthetizing recommendations and outcomes, proposing a way forward to the Mediterranean Higher Education and Research Community. This high-level debate aimed to boost engagement at the political level and push towards charting a path for possible future UfM Ministerial declarations.
At the same time, the Research and Innovation (R&I) initiatives in the Mediterranean have grown, under the blessing of the EuroMed Valletta Declaration on R&I of 2017, leading to the establishment of new instruments, such as the PRIMA initiative (which is funding more than 500 million euros in agricultural and water research) and BLUEMED initiatives. Now, under the impulse of the UfM Co-Presidency, the UfM Regional Platform in Research and Innovation is creating new research agendas on three new topics of high relevance to the region: Climate Change, Health and Renewable Energy.
Ensuring a quality and relevant higher education for all in the Mediterranean region becomes an urgent step for wider regional development, and responds to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”