Your Excellency Minister of Education and Higher Education Elias Bou Saab,
Director General of Higher Education, Dr. Ahmad Jammal,
President of Saint-Joseph University, Professor Father Salim Daccache,
Dr Aref Al Soufi, National Erasmus+ Office Coordinator,
Presidents, Deans and staff of Lebanese universities,
Representatives of the European Union Member States,
It has been an eventful past week politically. Two very important presidential elections have taken place – one was predicted (the one this week), the other more surprising.
I would like to congratulate the Lebanese citizens for last week’s breakthrough leading to electing a President against all expectations, and for the swift consultations led by HE President Michel Aoun to ask Saad Hariri to form a new government. This is a proof that the Lebanese leaders are able to reach compromise to reactivate state institutions, work to meet the expectations of the Lebanese citizens, and address the pressing challenges that the country is facing.
In the name of the European Union, I would like to reiterate our commitment to supporting Lebanon, its people and institutions.
And our relationship is stronger than ever. In the past six months we have discussing with the Government how we can strengthen our cooperation even further and worked on joint priorities for our partnership that we hope to sign very soon. In this partnership, we want to work on the joint challenges facing both Europe and Lebanon: Security and countering violent extremism, creating economic growth and jobs, good governance and transparency as well as migration. And we all need a strong, dynamic and vibrant higher education sector to help us do that.
Universities have a very important role to play: they have to respond to the needs of society, most importantly of the most vulnerable, but also consider the demands of the public and the private sectors, employers and students.
Universities also have a role in research, science and innovation, which are key to creating decent and sustainable jobs. To support this, modernisation and diversification of the economy should be encouraged by facilitating the increased participation of Lebanon in EU initiatives, such as the EU research and innovation programme - Horizon 2020 - and the programme in support of small and medium-sized enterprises - COSME. The development of a Common Knowledge and Innovation Space between the EU and its neighbours should be fostered, using scientific evidence to create knowledge-based jobs and attract investors to innovative businesses in both the EU and this region.
This is why the EU will significantly step up the scope for engagement of neighbourhood partners in Erasmus+, including a higher level of funding to offer more individual grants for students from countries from this region - and of course from Lebanon- who want to study in EU countries.
ERASMUS+ also provides more support for universities on both sides of the Mediterranean to strengthen their international outlook and to create better and more durable networks. It encourages more young Europeans to study in partner countries like Lebanon in order to increase links between EU Member States and these countries.
In this context, supporting policies aimed at matching skills and labour market needs, improving cooperation between academia and industry as well as between academia and institutions, and development of students' employability skills for knowledge-based and sustainable jobs are of great importance.
Learning from past mistakes, building on past achievements, the EU wishes to remain a key partner in your efforts to tackle these challenges, many of which we share.
Some of these joint lessons learned point out to the need for higher education institutions to reinforce interdisciplinary approaches, internal and external quality assurance, to develop standards that encourage innovations in teaching practice and knowledge delivery and to foster diversity, democracy and critical thinking. This requires an effort to make studies in social sciences and humanities more attractive, more connected to statistical and mathematical instruments, and more practice driven.
I would like to thank H.E Minister Bou Saab and and the Director General of Higher Education, Dr Ahmad Jammal, for their commitment and extremely positive cooperation, President of Saint-Joseph University, Professor Daccache and his team for hosting and giving support to this event, and Dr Aref Al Soufi and the National Erasmus+ office for making TEMPUS, ERASMUS MUNDUS and ERASMUS+ a success.
I think we all feel a sense of optimism after last week’s political breakthrough. Let us make sure that this country’s universities play an active role in working with the new government to create progress – both with direct input and constructive criticism – and further Lebanon’s security and stability and prosperity.
Thank you all for your attention.