Arab Open University joint venture by UNESCO and AGFUND

17 October 2001 The shortage of places at Arab universities has prompted the launching of an Arab Open University, which should welcome its first intake of students in October 2002.

This follow-up activity of the World Conference on Science is the brainchild of Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, President of the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND). He was at UNESCO Headquarters on 5 October 2001 to sign a co-operation agreement with UNESCO’s Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura.

Mr Matsuura was accompanied by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Walter Erdelen, by Moustafa El-Tayeb, Director of the Division for Science Analysis and Policies, and by the Division’s specialist responsible for developing the Arab Open University’s project document on technology aspects, Mohamed Miloudi.

Also present at the ceremony were the Assistant Director-General for Education, Sir John Daniel, former Rector of the Open University in the United Kingdom, and the Director of UNESCO’s Doha Office (Qatar), Abdallah Bubtana.

The Arab Open University project has been prepared jointly by staff in UNESCO’s Science Sector at Headquarters and by staff in the UNESCO Doha Office.

Dr Miloudi, who devised the concept, will be touring the Arab region next month to set up the first distance-learning centre and oversee multimedia production, satellite networking, the establishment of a virtual library and video-conferencing.

Headquartered in Kuwait, the Arab Open University will have branches in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. UNESCO’s Doha office will be involved in project co-ordination.

The university will focus initially on courses in science and technology, computer science, business administration, English and teacher training. The Open University in the United Kingdom will be providing some course material.

The Arab Open University responds to a pressing demand in the Arab States for broader access to tertiary education.

It will complement both existing universities in the region and the recently inaugurated virtual Avicenna campus (see WCS Newsletter of 2 November 2000) operating around the Mediterranean basin.

The Arab Open University implements a number of recommendations in the Science Agenda. For example, the Agenda urges extensive use of distance education in developing countries experiencing resource constraints to complement existing formal and non-formal education. It also identifies distance education as a means of redressing the limitations of educational infrastructure and of bringing high-quality science education to remote locations (paras 20 and 49).

Another goal high on the Budapest agenda, that of improving women’s access to higher education, is also one of the goals of the Arab Open University.

For further information, contact the UNESCO Division for Science Analysis and Policies, m.miloudi@unesco.org ; or go to: http://www.agfund.org/eaou.html