- The European Union (EU), in cooperation with African universities, is looking at ways to deepen European-African higher education cooperation, also wanting to make it easier for African students to go to Europe.
For the first time, major African and European universities, higher education experts and Erasmus Mundus Alumni students gathered in Brussels to examine ways to strengthen links between higher education institutions in Africa and Europe and increase the mobility of students, researchers and teachers between the two continents.
European Commissioner for Education, Ján Figel, participated at the gathering. "By promoting the mobility and academic excellence of young people in higher education with the Erasmus Mundus programme, we help break down barriers of misunderstanding that can exist between individuals, societies and cultures, and thereby contribute to creating a stable and peaceful world," Mr Figel told the conference.
During the conference, the debate hinged on the experience gained from implementing mobility programmes, in particular Erasmus Mundus. From this, participants sought to find ways of making the best possible use of the new phase of the Erasmus Mundus programme (2009 - 2013), which is set to provide increased possibilities for cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe and Africa.
The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, told the conference that "education is the single most important key to unlocking Africa's potential. Strengthening ties between African and European students and their higher education institutions is crucial as we face increasing global challenges, such as climate change or the financial crisis, that we will have to tackle together through sharing ideas and knowledge," he added.
On the occasion of the conference, also an African Chapter of the Erasmus Mundus Alumni Association was launched. African students were said to "play a major role in disseminating information about the Erasmus Mundus programme and, more generally, about the benefits of mobility for professional and personal development," according to the EU.
One of the key outcomes expected from this conference was "better targeted information to students and to universities in Africa which in turn should lead to increased African participation in Erasmus Mundus," an EU statement said.
The analysis of 'best practice' both for mobility and for cooperation between institutions was to provide the basis for stronger links between African and European higher education institutions in the interest of capacity building, "improving the level of excellence of African higher education and promoting the attractiveness of European higher education."
Since its launch in 2004, only 866 African students have benefited from the Erasmus Mundus programme, with a strong increase in the past two years. This places Africa third behind Asia (3,431) and the Americas (1,230).
However, only 8 percent of African applicants are selected for an Erasmus Mundus scholarship, which is granted only to very high quality students. This is the lowest success rate of any world region. The average success rate among all applicants is around 15 percent. Participation rates differ strikingly among African countries, with Ethiopia providing by far the most applicants. The participation of African scholars has also risen each year, from 4 in 2004 to 51 in 2008.
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