Islamic nations join forces, strengthen education opportunities
The Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has announced a higher education exchange programme that will facilitate scholarships, faculty exchanges, collaboration on distance learning methods and research projects among its 57 member countries spread over four continents. The OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations. It serves as the collective voice of the Muslim world and strives to safeguard and protect its interests in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony. Implementation of the initiative has begun with an offer of 10 special scholarships from the University of Kuala Lumpur. Universities in Turkey and Pakistan are also poised to offer scholarships under the new programme. Further evidence of recent OIC collaborations include Saudi-Uganda links as well as UAE-Pakistan connections.
Saudi Arabia extends 75 scholarships to Uganda
According to Arab News, Saudi Arabia is sponsoring 75 Ugandan students so they can complete their higher education. The Saudi Kingdom is covering all their expenses including tuition fees, lodging and air travel as part of its partnership with the OIC’s higher education initiative for Uganda. Ugandan ambassador Aziz Kalungi Kasujja said: “These students are currently on the rolls of various universities and academic institutions across the Kingdom. We are now keen to hold consultations with the Saudi side to boost cooperation in education and increase the number of sponsored students." The move will help fulfill the educational requirements of Ugandan students and enable educational institutions in the country to upgrade the quality of their education. Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi welcomed Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, deputy minister of foreign affairs, during a recent visit where he commended Saudi support extended to Uganda in the fields of infrastructure development, health and education. Kasujja noted the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) has made available SR 90 million to Uganda for implementing two major projects:
- the construction and equipment of a technical and vocational training institute at a cost of SR 45 million;
- a major rural electrification project in the country, one of several other such projects financed by Riyadh in many other African countries.
UAE opens 40 new schools in Pakistan
The UAE has set up 40 schools and educational institutes in Pakistan capable of teaching around 21,000 students, official media in the Gulf state reported. The schools were handed over to the local authorities in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. The UAE Project to Assist Pakistan, which is based on a directive by UAE president Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan, is part of a bid to improve educational infrastructure in the area. The project focuses primarily on education, public health, roads and bridges. Abdullah Al Ghafli, director of the project, said that it has brought to life modern educational facilities worth US$27.6 million, accommodating up to 28,000 students. The UAE has sponsored the construction of 35 schools and colleges, two model schools and 40 primary to secondary schools. It has also built 11 technical, technological and vocational colleges and institutes. Al Ghafli also announced that they have already started the implementation for construction of two model schools in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and South Waziristan (two of Pakistan's most impoverished regions), with each school costing US$500,000. Furthermore, according to University World News, Mohamed Zaghoul, professional officer at the OIC’s Jeddah secretariat, said that the exchange initiative “will streamline the scholarship offers by our member countries and facilitate regional and multilateral higher education cooperation. “The programme will also address the faculty deficiency at different universities in the Islamic world through exchange of academic experts.” OIC member states have already been offering scholarships to students from other OIC countries, routing offers through the OIC secretariat. But there were bureaucratic hurdles and a mismatch, as in some years countries made no offers. With a growing number of member states now offering scholarships, particularly at postgraduate and post-doctoral levels in fields such as science, engineering and medicine, the special OIC secretariat for exchanges can follow up on country commitments and match applications to offers. It will also work to minimise hurdles and delays, in order to facilitate a growing number of joint research projects, another component of the programme. This will involve exchange of researchers for ongoing projects and the initiation of new joint research of interest to the countries involved. Zaghoul said the secretariat would help willing member states to form sub-groups for special research projects that member countries considered “relevant and crucial to their academic and social needs.” Junaid Zaidi, rector of the Islamabad-based COMSATS Institute of Information Technology - a founding member of the programme - commented:
“Many OIC member countries are already offering scholarships or have trained faculty to share, and many are in need of these offers, but we lacked a structured system before this initiative was introduced.”
He added that the new programme would not duplicate an initiative announced at an OIC ministerial meeting in December last year for a higher education network to facilitate distance learning to overcome faculty shortages in many OIC countries. “The educational exchange programme has five components, whereas the previously announced network aimed only to link OIC universities for online or video conference lectures,” Zaidi said. The idea of an OIC educational exchange programme was first discussed during the June 2011 meeting of the foreign ministers of Islamic nations in Kazakhstan, when OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called for new initiatives to promote exchanges and sharing of knowledge and experience “through more structured interaction.” Ihsanoglu said: “Such an exchange programme would provide for short duration exchange of students, researchers and teachers between higher education institutions of member states on a reciprocal basis.” Sources: University World News, Arab News, Arabian Business