The PEACE Programme: a Unique Interuniversity Cooperation Network

DUMITRU, Chitoran (2010)

Dr. Dumitru Chitoran (Bucharest), Faculty Dean and Vice Rector of the University.

The 7th International PEACE Conference on Academic Cooperation and the Palestinian Universities will be held in Barcelona on 22-23 November 2010, jointly with the 8th session of the General Assembly of PEACE. It will be held just before the 5th International Conference on Higher Education, organized by GUNI, thus allowing participants to attend both events. With this event, PEACE will continue promoting its work of opening the Palestinian Universities to the International scenario, in order to improve the quality of education of the Palestinian population and to spread the demand for better living conditions.

Background

 
The Programme for Palestinian/European Academic Cooperation in Education (PEACE) was established in 1991, when most Palestinian universities were closed, upon the initiative of the rectors and presidents of twelve European universities - members of the Coimbra Group - and their colleagues from six Palestinian universities.
 
An allocation of 250.000 ECUs by the European Commission in 1993 to fund study abroad programmes for Palestinian students and subsequent financial and logistic support by UNESCO were instrumental in further developing the network and expanding its activities. Other international organizations and foundations have extended modest support. But PEACE relies mainly on its member universities to carry out its actions. In addition to paying a membership fee and providing grants for the Palestinian students, they seek financial support from their national authorities, from foundations, and from the private sector to fund PEACE activities.
 
PEACE counts at present 64 members: 52 European and 12 Palestinian universities. An office of the Programme was established at UNESCO, in Paris in 1995. Soon after UNESCO launched its UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, PEACE became one of the major UNITWIN networks. The decision making bodies of PEACE are the General Assembly and the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee meets regularly (at least once a year) while the General Assembly meets every other year - alternatively at a Palestinian and at a European university.
 
Several international conferences devoted to specific topics of higher education development in Palestine were organized jointly with the General Assembly sessions: Academic Cooperation in Support of the Palestinian Higher Education Institutions (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 18-19 November 1994); The Role of Higher Education in the Context of an Independent Palestinian State (Nablus, 7-9 November 1996); Five years of Autonomous Rule in Palestine. The Role of International Cooperation in Higher Education (Ghent, Belgium, 23-24 April 1999); University Cooperation for the Progress of Civil Society in Palestine (Bethlehem, 25-27 February 2005); Research Development at Palestinian Universities (UNESCO Paris, 4-5 November 2007). They were very well attended and have given fresh impetus to PEACE by extending its membership and the range of its activities.
 
Objectives
 
The Palestinian universities are faced with enormous difficulties. While being aware that their enormous needs cannot be met without considerable support from the international community and above all else without a final solution to the prolonged conflict in the region, PEACE acts with the firm belief that it can contribute to alleviating at least some of their difficulties and hardships. As an interuniversity network, it focuses on those areas in which academic cooperation has made proof of its efficiency and pertinence, namely contributing to raising the quality, efficiency and relevance of teaching and research.
 
Its objectives therefore include in the first place contributing to academic staff and institutional development and, to capacity building of Palestinian universities through academic mobility and the exchange of teachers and researchers. It also supports Palestinian universities to open up internationally and take their rightful place in bilateral and multilateral academic co-operation. In keeping with the spirit which led to its foundation, PEACE seeks to play also a wider role as a means of international opening, of overcoming difficulties and isolation, and of removing entrenched tensions and animosities that have accumulated during long years of turmoil. PEACE pursues these goals in a spirit of academic solidarity, with the aspiration to make a contribution - as suggested by its acronym - to the peace process in the Middle East.
 
Main Activities. Space restrictions only allow for a brief and very selective listing of PEACE activities. Interested readers could visit the PEACE website (www.peace-programme.org) for more information.
 
Faculty Development and Academic Mobility.
 
- In order to contribute to faculty development, PEACE has set up a Scholarship Scheme, which supports Palestinian postgraduate students and young academics to upgrade their training abroad and to obtain higher degrees (mainly PhDs). Over the 19 years since it was established, some 170 students have benefited from the Scheme and many of them are now teaching at Palestinian  universities. The scholarship Scheme has experienced  a strong development during the last few academic years, growing from four grantees in 2004/2005 to seven in 2005/2006, seventeen in 2006/2007, twenty-six in 2007/2008, thirty-one in 2008/2009 and twenty-nine in 2009-2010. Given its cost effectiveness and its direct impact on the quality of teaching and research at Palestinian universities, it is envisaged to stabilize the number of Palestinian PEACE grantees at 25 per year, thus reinforcing the role of the Scholarship Scheme as the main line of action of PEACE and a major contributor to academic staff development for the Palestinian universities.
 
- Academic mobility. Exchanges between Palestinian and foreign universities start usually from bilateral cooperation arrangements. The role of PEACE is to turn bilateral exchanges into multilateral exchanges, thus increasing their impact. More recently, PEACE has started to use the European academic mobility schemes, which are open for participation by the Palestinian universities. Thus, an Erasmus Mundus (EMU II) Project was approved by the European Commission in 2007 and renewed this year. Coordinated by the Free University of Brussels (VUB) which is a member of PEACE, the Project foresees grants for a large number of Palestinian graduate students. 9 PEACE candidates have been placed at European universities under the EMU 2.
 
- Academic Programmes and Research. PEACE action in the field of Research has taken a new dimension following the 6th International PEACE Conference on Research Development in Palestinian Universities (Paris, November 2007) and the National Research Workshop held soon afterwards in Nablus (January 2008), as shown by the select list of projects below:
 
- Centre of Excellence in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Birzeit University, Palestine. Based on broad international cooperation, this ambitious project aims to enhance teaching and research capabilities in these fields. A UNESCO Chair and Network was set up in 2007 at Birzeit University to serve as its focal point.
 
- Centre of Advanced Studies and Research in International Cooperation and Development in Palestine (CASR-ICD). Action has started with a Master Degree Programme and joint research. Several grants have been offered to Palestinian students and academic staff. A conference on The Palestinian Economy: Theoretical and Practical Challenges, was held at the University of Pavia in June 2010.
 
- Teacher Education. PEACE seeks to associate its member universities to the implementation of the Palestinian Teacher Education Strategy launched recently with the support of UNESCO and of the European Commission. As a direct contribution, two PEACE grantees finished doctoral studies in the field of Education and a third one is due to finish in 2012. A consortium of PEACE member universities has been set up to assist the project.
 
- Open and Distance Learning (ODL) at Palestinian Universities. This project is particularly relevant to meet pressing needs and to overcome certain difficulties encountered by Palestinian universities at present. The ultimate goal is to establish a Virtual Palestinian University, working in close partnership with the traditional universities and based on strong ties with similar institutions abroad.
 
Two initiatives have emerged recently with the potential to be developed into relevant projects:
 
- Proposal for cooperation with PEACE by ALLEA, the umbrella organization of the European academies to strengthen cooperation in research and higher education between Palestine and Europe.
 
- Promotion of teaching and research in Astronomy at Al Aqsa University, Gaza. The International Astronomical Union and several PEACE member universities have expressed their readiness to support the project, starting with the donation of telescopes and other equipment for a space lab.
 
Major PEACE Event in 2010
 
The 7th International PEACE Conference on Academic Cooperation and the Palestinian Universities will be held in Barcelona on 22-23 November 2010, jointly with the 8th session of the General Assembly of PEACE. It will be held just before the 5th International Conference on Higher Education, organized by the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI), thus allowing participants to attend both events.
 
Having in mind the celebration of 2010 as the International Year of the Rapprochement Among Cultures, a special session of the Conference is devoted to the Role of the Universities in Promoting Dialogue amongst Cultures and Civilizations. Interest in the Conference has kept growing, particularly after Mr. Federico Mayor, the President of the Culture of PEACE Foundation and Co-Chair of the UN Alliance for Dialogue among Civilizations has accepted to attend and to present the key note address to the Special Session.
 
Future prospects for PEACE
 
PEACE has emerged as an efficient and cost-effective inter-university network for channeling international support to Palestinian higher education and research. The member-universities of the PEACE Programme look forward to the moment when conditions will have been created for Palestinian higher education institutions to function normally, in an independent Palestinian State, living in peace and security with all countries in the region. They are working with the conviction that their action contributes to bringing that moment closer to reality. in time.
 
The most significant fact about PEACE is its continued existence for almost two decades, as an expression of academic solidarity and active cooperation with the Palestinian universities. And the first lesson that can be drawn from its experience is that academic solidarity is not only needed but that it can also function , despite difficulties. PEACE has known its ups and downs, reflecting by and large the fluctuations of the peace process in the region. Its member universities act with the formal (?) belief that they are part of a unique, innovative and much needed initiative in international academic cooperation.
 
For further information, visit the PEACE website (www.peace-programme.org). You may also wish to contact Prof. Radwan Barakat, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Hebron University, President of PEACE, (RadwanB@HEBRON.edu)
 
Prof. Fréderic Ogée, Vice Président, Université Paris-Diderot (Paris 7), Vice President of PEACE (federic.ogee@paris-diderot.fr), or Prof. Dumitru Chitoran, Advisor to the PEACE Programme Office at UNESCO (d.chitoran@unseco.org).

About the author

Dr. Dumitru Chitoran was Professor, Faculty Dean and Vice Rector of the University of Bucharest before joining UNESCO’s European Centre for Higher Education (CEPES) located in Bucharest. In 1989 he was transferred to the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris, as Chief of the Higher Education Section. He had responsibilities for several UNESCO activities and initiatives related to higher education: the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, the preparation of the World Conference on Higher Education (Paris, July 1998) the World Forum of UNESCO Chairs (2001), etc.

He has helped set up the network of European universities committed to promoting academic cooperation with the Palestinian universities known as the PEACE Programme and continues to be an advisor of the PEACE Programme Office at UNESCO.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Partners

  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona