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New Erasmus funding for Arab Spring

As part of a programme to support countries involved in the Arab Spring, the EU has allocated €66 million to increasing opportunities for students and academics from the Middle East and North Africa to study and work abroad.

"In MENA, as in many other parts of the world, learner autonomy is a fairly new concept"

The initiative, run by Erasmus’s worldwide subsidiary, Erasmus Mundus, seeks to achieve “better understanding and mutual enrichment” between the EU and its southern neighbours, along with exchange of knowledge and skills.

While specific details have not been released, Erasmus is likely extend the work it does elsewhere to the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region – funding partnerships between European and regional universities and scholarship schemes, as well as running its degree courses in partner universities.

The initiative is one of four launched by the EU this month in response to Arab Spring that will provide a total of €458 million to supporting democratic transformation, public accountability, job creation and education across the region.

Catherine Ashton, the Vice President of the European Commission, said the policies showed the EU’s commitment to support “‘deep’ and sustainable democracy, but also economic recovery, in North Africa and the Middle East.”

A number of voices in the international education community have highlighted the importance of education in sustaining the changes brought about by the Arab Spring – particularly in addressing the unemployment and slow economic growth that triggered the uprisings.

At the EAIE conference in Copenhagen this month, Arab lecturers, ministers and campaigners suggested Europe could play a key role in driving up standards, and called for more partnerships with its universities and increased exposure to European and US models of teaching.

A number of other educational initiatives are also underway to support students in the region. John Martin, a University College London professor, and Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, are raising money for a scholarship fund to foster “freedom of thought” in the region’s future leaders. They hope to bring 100 doctoral students from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to UCL and other top UK universities from 2012.

Meanwhile, the British Council is running a Facebook page as part of its English for the Future project in MENA which encourages visitors to use its mobile English products, conversation classes in Second Life and LearnEnglish Radio series. The page saw its 300,000th subscriber in September.

“With many learners of English still facing numerous challenges in the Middle East and North Africa, the key to their success is going to be learning how to learn independently,” said Nic Humphries, the British Council’s Director of English in the MENA region. “In MENA, as in many other parts of the world, learner autonomy is a fairly new concept and students can often feel lost without someone directing their learning and telling them what to do.”

Erasmus Mundus was launched in 2004 with the aim of enhancing quality in higher education and promoting intercultural understanding worldwide. Erasmus as a whole is set to expand as the EU increases funding of youth training by 73% to €15.2 billion in 2014-2020. It aims to double the number studying and training abroad from 400,000 per year to almost 800,000 in future.

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