In partnership with the Union for the Mediterranean
The annual conference of the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) on Youth, Employability and Entrepreneurship: The Role of Higher Education Institutions, organised in partnership with the Union for the Mediterranean, opened in the afternoon of 5.4. in Piran's Tartini Theatre.
First, the floor was given to the key element of the session – the youth: the students of the music school of Piran performed a variety of songs. Following that, welcome remarks were given by the President of EMUNI, Abdelhamid El-Zoheiry; Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, Fathallah Sijilmassi; the Chair of EMUNI's Management Board, Giuseppe Giliberti, Matej Marn, Political Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, and the Mayor of Piran, Peter Bossman.
Abdelhamid El-Zoheiry stated that “working to solve the youth employability problem, which goes past creating jobs and into eradicating the disconnect between the youth's skills and the demands of the labour market, can and will go a long way to ease social and political spillovers.” This, he emphasised, would in turn also create increased political will for regional cooperation, integration, and peace.
Fathallah Sijilmassi noted that EMUNI’s annual conference timely taps into most topical theme(s). He recalled the UfM's strong commitment to youth, employment and education, and attention given in these themes in their ongoing and past projects. He specifically recalled the Second Regional Forum in January 2017, titled “Mediterranean in Action: Youth for Stability and Development”, on which this conference will build.
Giuseppe Giliberti reflected on EMUNI's manifold mission of providing study programmes, connecting higher education institutions of the region, thereby using education and science as tools of interconnectedness, and of providing a space to discuss significant themes, such as the one the participants met to address.
Matej Marn expressed the joy of the government of Slovenia to be hosting an institution of such regional importance. He argued for better inclusion of the youth into policy-making, for innovative approaches in education – and for regional cooperation in discovering them.
Delighted about the presence of EMUNI is also Peter Bossman, speaking on behalf of Municipality of Piran. He situated EMUNI in the context of the diversity and hospitality of the community of Piran, and the natural and cultural beauty of its immediate surroundings.
The panellists in the opening panel were Maja Makovec Brenčič, Minister of Education, Science and Sport, Slovenia; Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific research, Egypt, and Fathallah Sijilmassi. A theme running through their discussion was the need to further get to know and link various parts of the Mediterranean and create partnerships between the stakeholders. This is needed in order to share employment practices, entrepreneurial thinking and effective educational approaches, reap benefits of research and foster new initiatives for the continually inspiring youth.
EMUNI's annual conference 2017 – Youth, Employability, Entrepreneurship: The Role of Higher Education Institutions – concluded in the late afternoon of 6.4. The statements of timeliness and significance of the conference expressed by high-level speakers at the opening panel provided very relevant throughout the discussions in three focussed panels of the second day of the conference.
The first panel outlined the scale of unemployment among the youth in the region and discussed the necessary and feasible ways of addressing it, focussing particularly on entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial mind-set. The potential of entrepreneurship remains considerably unexplored in the region, and efforts should be put on further mainstreaming it into the societies and education, but doing so in a way that is both aware of and sensitive to the culture and values of the region, and inspired by the potential of its human capital.
The second panel evaluated the state of higher education in the region, in particularly from the point of view of the skills that students should be developing. The need for critical thinking, problem solving and creativity was emphasised, and the need of the labour market for soft skills was noted. With regards to the latter, students currently develop them mostly by structures outside the higher education institutions, but there are no impediments as such for higher education institutions to incorporate soft skills in their curricula. Indeed, relying in large part on the physical presence and human interaction despite the technological progress that would theoretically enable online studies only, higher education institutions should better explore this justification for their relevance.
Possibilities for entrepreneurial training were explored in the third panel. This encompasses mentoring, coaching and consultation in entrepreneurship, mainstreaming of entrepreneurial training in schools and paying attention to related skills, such as those stated above. The region can pride itself for implementing many good practices that should be further shared, disseminated and replicated in a context-appropriate manner to result in the change of better employability and higher employment of the youth. The need for continual learning was emphasised and of developing solutions not only for the youth, but together with the youth.
In the wrap-up and closing session, all the participants, including speakers, were invited to contribute with quotes to the emerging policy paper that will result from the conference via email@example.com.
Apart from discussions in the panels, the conference offered numerous opportunities for networking and bilateral meetings throughout the day, not least at the conference dinner at Piran's seafront.
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.