Arab countries in transition

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by David Lock

Under the UK’s Presidency of the G8 for 2013 the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition conference was hosted in London on 16 September. The purpose of the conference was to highlight opportunities and the steps being taken to enable Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, (countries in transition, either in response to uprisings or to avoid them) to develop strong economies and start to meet the expectations of their people. I attended and now share some of the issues and what the Leadership Foundation will be doing to enable UK HEIs to play a part in addressing the challenges.

Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, opening the conference said: ’The changes that we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa since 2011 have been momentous and,… when taken together, they constitute the most significant international development so far of the 21st century.’
He said that the underlying motivation for the uprisings that swept the region had been ‘the demand for legitimate rights and respect for individual dignity; including the prospect of finding a job and of citizens being able to ply their trade without state interference. Meeting the high expectations of the people is a complicated and challenging task, and it is one that a fragile security environment makes even more difficult.’

From his remarks and the inputs and discussion which followed it is clear that an economic response is paramount. It is estimated that up to 100 million jobs will need to be created across the Middle East and North Africa during the next decade. The private sector will be critical in fuelling the growth needed to create those jobs by providing the investment. However, issues that are vital for achieving a sustainable long term future, such as furthering women’s economic empowerment, the development of entrepreneurism, the development of renewable energy, agribusiness, tourism, banking and finance and the creation of transparent legislative structures will require a response from all sectors of society, including higher education.

In March the Leadership Foundation signed an agreement with the Association of Arab Universities (AArU) to provide leadership development programmes for its members, which included universities in the transition countries. Together with Cardiff Metropolitan University the LF has undertaken scoping exercises in 4 of the transition countries and run pilot leadership programmes. Under the new agreement these will be extended to the 18 other countries with universities in membership of AArU and the range of themes will be extended.

As well as strategic leadership, investment in enabling more women to become effective leaders, developing capacity for producing graduates that are more entrepreneurial, embracing employers as more significant stakeholders and, taking a longer term view, encouraging more young researchers to develop leadership skills, will be an important contribution to achieving the aims of the countries concerned.
Universities in the UK are good at all these things. The partnerships that can grow from participating in the leadership development activities at an early stage could place UK universities in a strong position as the fruits of the Deauville initiative ripen.

The details of the LF’s activities with AArU in 2013-14 will be determined in Jordan in October. The LF is strongest when it works in partnership with its member UK universities. I would welcome the views of LF member universities on ways in which they would like to partner in this work.

David Lock is the Leadership Foundation’s director of international. Contact him at david.lock [at] lfhe.ac.uk