In partnership with the Union for the Mediterranean
Young people represent the most creative, motivated and resourceful segment of society and are the ambitious motors of the future. These qualities should be harnessed in order for individuals to realise their potential at crucial stages in their lives and to enable societies to flourish. Today, the Euro-Mediterranean region is confronted with a complex context in the economic, political and social spheres resulting in numerous challenges but also creating many opportunities.
Representing approximately 30% of the total population in the Middle East and North Africa, youth (i.e. young people aged 15-24), offers huge potential to expand human development and strengthen regional integration. Enabling the right environment for youth to be active citizens and seize full educational opportunities is essential to respond to the various preoccupations in both rims of the Mediterranean.
Youth unemployment is nowadays a major concern in the region. In many countries, its rate is two to three times higher than that of adults. Even as the world is recovering after the global economic and financial crisis (which has hit the youth most severely) and as the unemployment situation has started to ease in some countries, youth unemployment rates in Europe and in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries continue to be very high (around 20% and 30% respectively).
Youngsters who are neither in education or training nor in employment (NEETs) are particularly at risk of becoming socially excluded. Even when they do have a job, many young people are facing low wages, underemployment, unstable and precarious conditions at work, if not in the informal economy with little social security and a higher probability of being laid off.
From the society perspective, better performances in health, growth, welfare, stability and sustainability are all related to employment. At the level of individuals, young people seek and deserve happiness and fulfilment. Gender equality is another aspect that is of concern. In the region, the unemployment rate of young women exceeds that of young men by around 20%. Achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies – which is reaffirmed in the 2030 UN Agenda – demands that youth and women have access to decent jobs. Investing in youth employment and women socio-economic empowerment is the best response to numerous pressing societal challenges.
Higher education institutions (HEIs) play a central role in this respect. They are key stakeholders in building knowledge societies that are responsive to the needs of the labour markets, which are impacted by rapid technological changes and globalization. At present, the nature of employment is increasingly shifting. Moreover, careers are not for a lifetime anymore. To keep up with transformations, individuals need to be taught to be adaptable and to learn throughout their lives. Critical issues, linking employment and higher education, characterize the Mediterranean region: economies are not providing enough opportunities for highly trained youth, making significant number of young people in the region overqualified for job vacancies, which in turn leads to occupying inadequate jobs without any future prospects thus creating frustrations. There is a clear need for the education system to overcome the skill mismatch between existing qualifications and labour market needs in close cooperation with the private sector.
In this context, the HEIs are increasingly expected to promote entrepreneurship. By its capacity to create jobs, entrepreneurship can turn fast changing societal and economic challenges into opportunities for new markets and employment. Entrepreneurship has also a proven ability to foster research and innovation. The jobs that entrepreneurship creates and the markets it transforms demand continuous learning and capacity building. As such, businesses are hubs of continual development of the skills of their employees – a key quality in today’s fast changing world.
HEIs are grappling with ways to provide students with entrepreneurship skills and entrepreneurial spirit as well as with how to form participative and committed citizens, leaders of tomorrow. There is thus the need to engage North-South universities in an action-oriented discussion on their role of higher education institutions in today’s societies and economies and foster replication of best practices and cooperation on a regional level. This entails taking into account the state of the art and the lessons learnt in the field of education, economic, labour and employment policies.
This conference capitalises on achievements by the EMUNI University – notably the recently launched Upgrading Diploma on Entrepreneurship & Innovation – as well as on the UfM Med4Jobs Initiative and the conclusions of the II UfM Regional Forum Mediterranean in Action: Youth for Stability and Development (Spain, 23–24 January 2017), where UfM Foreign Affairs Ministers endorsed the UfM roadmap.
Building on the conclusions of the UfM Ministerial Conference on Employment and Labour (Jordan, 26-27 September 2016) and in view of the Ministerial Conference on Strengthening Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation through Research and Innovation (Malta, 3-4 May 2017), this conference provides a unique platform for structuring regional collaboration gathering policy-makers, representatives of academia, business sector and youth to come up with solid recommendations that could develop into concrete actions.