Egypt has one of the largest numbers of students enrolled in higher education in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a total of around 2.4 million students, according to a new Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) report.
The UFM launched a regional dialogue process on the internationalisation of higher education in the Mediterranean region. It noted that internationalisation is not understood as a goal by itself, but a process aimed at enhancing the quality and standards of education and research.
This dialogue intends to facilitate continuous peer learning among the UfM countries on policies and practices addressing common challenges and priorities, and to foster joint projects and initiatives.
In intent to address regional needs and pave the way for a change of scale in the support mechanisms, the UfM launched a study, conducted by the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED).
The study aims at being an effective tool for policymakers and other stakeholders, and set out to investigate the internationalisation of higher education in 10 countries, namely: Algeria; Egypt; Palestine; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Libya; Mauritania; Morocco; and Tunisia.
The study focused especially on resources and opportunities available at the national and regional levels.
The report found that in most cases, internationalisation is identified simply as mobility, while a more comprehensive internationalisation strategy would be highly beneficial for institutions and staff, and may increase attractiveness and participation.
The report also showed that in a year’s average before the pandemic, over 220,000 students moved around the world came from MENA countries, which in turn hosted over 134,000 international students.
“Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia have a net outflow of student mobility, while Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan have a net inflow, particularly from the rest of Asia and some African countries,” according to the UFM.
The report also revealed that South and East Mediterranean Countries have been increasingly sending and receiving students to and from the MENA region, alongside Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, and China.
Malaysia is one of the most active actors in the Mediterranean area, constantly boosting its cooperation with Arab countries and higher education institutions.
The report showed that academic mobility is overwhelmingly from South to North in the region. The low attractiveness of local higher education systems, including quality and diversity of research, prevents Southern Mediterranean countries from achieving reciprocal mobility.
“The EU’s Erasmus+ programme is generating the largest impact on the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions,” the report noted, “Meanwhile, in the South-Eastern Mediterranean region, there is a focus on national activities and bilateral cooperation, rather than on a regional approach.”
It added that universities in the MENA region perceive themselves as more teaching-oriented than research-oriented, as the research sector suffers from low budget allocation. All countries in the study spend less than 1% of GDP on Research and Developments (R&D).
The report revealed that obstacles to effective internationalisation include: high fragmentation in the procedures and systems of credit recognition and assessment of qualifications; and difficulties obtaining visas for international mobility. The latter point affects particularly MENA countries to access Europe.
A series of recommendations emerge from the study, both at national and regional level. They were formulated taking in consideration the most relevant existing best practices and initiatives that can be replicated and up-scaled in the region.
They point out proposals regarding information-sharing mechanisms, the improvement of present regional initiatives and programmes, and synergies and complementarities between existing mobility schemes and programmes. This is in addition to appropriate capacity-development mechanisms for Higher Education Institutions.
The report was presented during an online event recently, which introduced the results of the study and launched the preparation of a renewed policy agenda for the region.
Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the UfM, stated in the report that, only by investing in the region’s future and youth, will the region be able, as internationalisation practitioners, to guarantee a framework of sustainability and prosperity in the Mediterranean.