AMMAN— On the opening day of the 2022 General Assembly of UniMed, the Mediterranean Universities Union, higher-education leaders and other speakers agreed to pay special attention to future skills and emphasised the need to continue partnerships that meet students’ needs.
In a keynote speech, Marcelo Scalisi, UniMed’s director, described the event as historic.
“We have a lot more work to do than before,” he said. “We are talking about the union’s future, the integration of our societies to meet common challenges, beyond mere cooperation, crossing borders, and cultural barriers.”
Scalisi said the diversity of attendance and the participation of 200 representatives from 19 universities demonstrated the importance of the event, which brought together officials from several Arab countries, including Libya, Yemen, Syria and Jordan.
He also mentioned the cooperation between UniMed and the European Union’s Erasmus Programme for educational exchange, and he announced that the UniMed Summit for Mediterranean Students will be held in Barcelona in November.
He pointed to the importance of integrating activities with the Association of Arab Universities, besides cooperating with regional and international organisations such as NATO and Unesco in terms of higher education, and with Al-Fanar Media as a platform concerned with promoting and covering education issues in the Arab region.
Scalisi stressed the continuation of work to keep refugee and immigrant issues a priority on UniMed’s agenda.
Cooperation with Arab Universities
“We have a lot more work to do than before. We are talking about the union’s future, the integration of our societies to meet common challenges, beyond mere cooperation, crossing borders, and cultural barriers.”Marcelo Scalisi Director of the Mediterranean Universities Union (UniMed)
Amr Ezzat Salama, secretary-general of the Association of Arab Universities, said his organisation had agreed with UniMed since 2014 to exchange visits, experiences and cooperation in European higher education projects.
In his keynote speech, Salama said that higher education was a major driver of economies, especially in developing countries, by building capacities through training, education, scientific research, and social development.
Salama also touched on the challenges of technology, infrastructure, and financing of higher education and scientific research, and said that his association provides practical solutions to these challenges.
Salama called for more dialogue and communication among universities, governments, companies, and international organisations, and to benefit from the work of researchers. He also pointed out the need for higher education institutions’ policies to be compatible with the goals of sustainable development.
Talking about his association’s plans and projects to support and finance scientific research, Salama said the association establishes partnerships and cooperation agreements with Arab and international academic institutions in the interest of Arab universities.
Osama Obeidat, chief executive of Queen Rania Teacher Academy, in Amman, talked about his institution’s work. Since the nonprofit
academy was established in 2009, he said, it has provided more than 90,000 professional development opportunities for teachers and educational leaders.
The academy has also invested in building an experienced academic cadre, benefiting from its partnerships with universities and reputable educational institutions, he said.
Obeidat also discussed the academy’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic’s repercussions on higher education. He said that the academy had launched programs to support the online learning environment, with the aim of building teachers’ ability to deal with education technology.
He stressed that education is a good way to communicate among countries, and concluded by saying that societies need smarter education based on technology and building basic skills.
The conference also hosted Juan Rayón, president of Erasmus Student Network, the largest student organisation in Europe acting in the field of student mobility and internalisation of higher education.
Rayón said his organisation represents international students around the world. He said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with UniMed to foster cooperation between the two agencies on issues regarding student mobility.
“Half of the skills required in the future will be based on critical and creative thinking. There is still a long time before artificial intelligence will be able to perform the functions of the human brain in terms of critical thinking.Salah Khalil Founder of Al-Fanar Media.
Speaking on the benefits of study abroad, Rayón said the experience holds rewards not only for students, but also benefits their communities and countries. He added that students help each other through the network, as partners rather than recipients of services, and as drivers of change in educational systems and societies.
The businessman and philanthropist Salah Khalil, founder of Al-Fanar Media and the Alexandria Trust, talked about the media and skills gaps.
Khalil compared the difficulty of the verification process in digital media to “eating soup with a fork”. He said this was related not so much to media awareness as to skills like how to understand, evaluate, and analyse.
“We need to re-skill and upskill,” added Khalil, questioning the reasons for the gap between the skills of old and modern economies. He added that the lack of skills makes societies lose about $70 trillion.
He ruled out the ability to anticipate most of the jobs of the future, in light of the current conditions. He asked: “What are the skills? What are the educational programs? What is the effort of universities? Media awareness is just a fact among all of that.”
He continued: “Half of the skills required in the future will be based on critical and creative thinking. There is still a long time before artificial intelligence will be able to perform the functions of the human brain in terms of critical thinking. The machine has won in terms of memorising, but when it comes to critical thinking, humans have not been defeated.”
Khalil said that universities need to focus on future skills, warning that one billion people are at risk of losing their jobs if they do not reskill.
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Khalil also stressed that verifying the news should be a transparent and trust-based process. “Specialised journalism builds credibility in a particular sector,” he said, pointing out that Al-Fanar Media has trained sixty educational journalists.
The conference, which concludes on Thursday, is being held in person this year after two years of online events due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme this year is “Shaping the Mediterranean from Cooperation to Integration”.