Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn delivered a keynote speech during the regional ‘Bridging the Gap: Higher Education and Beyond’ conference organised by SPARK, in partnership with the EU Madad Trust Fund and the American University of Beirut (AUB). The conference focused on how to further improve and support the access of young people in the region to quality training, higher education, and entrepreneurship, while their countries are affected by conflict, mass displacement and economic stalemate. Notable keynote speakers included Jan Waltmans, Ambassador of the Netherlands for Lebanon; M.İ. Safa Kapıcıoğlu, Deputy President of YoK (Council of Higher Education), Turkey; and H.E. Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Education and Higher Education, Lebanon.
In the wake of the Syria refugee crisis, SPARK has awarded almost 7,700 scholarships to vulnerable young people in the region under its Higher Education programme, out of which 2484 are funded by the European Union, including for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. It is now time to consider the next steps for these young, qualified people: how can scholarship, exchange and other support programmes work to benefit both refugees, the future reconstruction of Syria and Iraq and local hosting economies? How to provide sustainable solutions for economic development in a region with high rates of youth unemployment? What options for job creation in the region?
Commissioner Hahn said: “Students and Higher education institutions have been and will remain a key sector for assistance of the European Union and it member states as we believe that they are the actors of change in the quest for a more prosperous era, and a peaceful region. Beyond education and skills development additional measures are needed to allow for more jobs to be created and to increase the employability of graduates. Entrepreneurship and start-ups are new tools to be used. An enabling environment and policies to allow the reduction of inequalities, the increase the number and competitiveness of SMEs and the promotion of sustainable growth are key.”
A series of keynotes from important, regional stakeholders tackled the major issues facing higher education and economic empowerment of youth in the region. The participants heard directly from Lebanese, Jordanian and refugees from Syria and Palestine about the impact of current and new educational programmes. Knowledge-sharing and sustainable solutions were also defined in a range of morning and afternoon workshops; with networking opportunities available throughout the day to share ideas and establish connections.
The EU’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has devoted nearly EUR 59 million almost exclusively for supporting opportunities to access Higher Education. This support, also including the SPARK project, has awarded around 3,847 full scholarships, 5,741 language courses and over 40,000 counselling sessions. Girls and women represent an important number of its beneficiaries. This support goes to Syrians in their country as well as to refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon. This comes on top of EU traditional support through Erasmus+.