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Document 52002AE0520

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Council Decision amending Decision 1999/311/EC adopting the third phase of the trans-European cooperation scheme for higher education (Tempus III) (2000-2006)" (COM(2002) 47 final — 2002/0037 (CNS))

OJ C 149, 21.6.2002, p. 36–38 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Council Decision amending Decision 1999/311/EC adopting the third phase of the trans-European cooperation scheme for higher education (Tempus III) (2000-2006)" (COM(2002) 47 final — 2002/0037 (CNS))

Official Journal C 149 , 21/06/2002 P. 0036 - 0038

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the "Proposal for a Council Decision amending Decision 1999/311/EC adopting the third phase of the trans-European cooperation scheme for higher education (Tempus III) (2000-2006)"

(COM(2002) 47 final - 2002/0037 (CNS))

(2002/C 149/10)

On 28 February 2002 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for External Relations, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 April 2002. The rapporteur was Ms Florio.

At its 390th plenary session (meeting of 24 April 2002), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion unanimously.

"Co-operation on higher education strengthens and deepens the whole fabric of relations existing between the peoples of Europe, brings out common cultural values, allows fruitful exchanges of views to take place and facilitates multinational activities in the scientific, cultural, artistic, economic and social spheres."(1)

1. Co-operation in the field of higher education: the reasons for the Tempus programme

1.1. The Tempus programme was launched in 1990 as a programme for co-operation in the field of higher education, conceived as an integral part of the programmes to provide assistance for economic and social reforms in the central and eastern European countries, the republics of the former Soviet Union, and Mongolia.

1.2. Over the last ten years the programme has undergone a series of changes and adjustments, mainly due to the development of relations between the European Union and the CEEC, so that in 1993 - by which time 11 countries were eligible to join the programme - it was decided to extend the programme to include the countries of the former Soviet Union. The programme was thus further modified twice (Tempus II and Tempus II A) with the inclusion of the New Independent States.

1.3. The need was to encourage a comparative system and far-reaching structural reforms in the higher education sector, so as to create in the central and eastern European countries and the former Soviet Union a modern academic teaching methodology equal to the challenges of radically changing socio-economic systems, with the aim of strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring peaceful coexistence among all the peoples of the continent.

1.4. As the geo-political situation changed, the Balkans region was therefore also included in the programme in successive stages, on the principle that co-operation in the university sector could consolidate and markedly improve the young democracies of the Balkans. At present, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and the FYROM, followed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, belong to the group of countries included in the Tempus programme.

1.5. Initially the Tempus programme identified three priority areas:

1) support for curricular reforms in education programmes;

2) reform of the structures of higher education and of their management;

3) development and integration of higher training, with a view to bridging the current gaps between the different higher education systems. The reforms are essentially aimed at changing the entire model of higher education, particularly in the former socialist countries, adapting it to the necessary economic reforms, and improving and strengthening the link with the world of work.

1.5.1. All this is implemented mainly through the JEPs (Joint European Projects managed by networks of institutions) and individual bursaries for visits to partner countries awarded to teachers, researchers, trainers, administrators from universities and educational systems, senior ministry officials and training experts. Such visits, which cover a rather broad range of activities, can make a decisive contribution to better understanding between different cultures and to bringing them closer together.

2. Tempus III: extending the programme to the MEDA countries

2.1. By amending Decision 1999/311/EC, the Council now wishes to extend the application of the Tempus programme to include certain Mediterranean countries which already benefit from the European Union's MEDA programme.

2.2. With the adoption of the partnership decision, the Tempus programme would thus be extended to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Lebanon.

2.3. It has become necessary to include such countries to redress imbalances which have gradually arisen in the co-operation programmes, especially in the higher education sector; the need also arises from the strengthening of co-operation and dialogue with eligible countries in the Mediterranean area.

2.4. It is envisaged that Israel, too, could join the Tempus partnership; however, its participation would be self-funded, since the country does not currently belong to the MEDA bilateral agreements.

3. General comments

3.1. It is extremely important to include the countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean in the programme, because this would boost the chances of greater integration between the countries of the European Union and a geographical area whose economic potential has not yet been adequately developed.

3.2. Such co-operation, the roots of which go as far back as the 1960s, was significantly extended in the 1990s and received a decisive boost from the Barcelona Declaration, adopted in November 1995 at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference.

3.3. The ESC itself has also recently emphasised the need for closer co-operation with the Mediterranean countries(2), in the light of the events of 11 September 2001, and regarding the Barcelona Declaration as an essential instrument for meeting the needs of these countries and facing the challenges posed by relations with them.

3.4. This process of strengthening inter-Mediterranean co-operation has also benefited from the contribution made by the Lisbon Declaration, which stresses the importance of education and training as valuable instruments which can provide a highly qualitative approach to meeting the challenges of an increasingly integrated market.

4..Thus, in view of the increasingly pressing need to strengthen co-operation between the European Union and the eligible Mediterranean countries, the Committee is in favour of their joining the Tempus III partnership, for a variety of reasons relating to the nature of the programme itself and that of international relations.

4.1. First and foremost, the Tempus III programme has already shown itself to be an effective instrument for developing inter-university co-operation and the exchange of experience and know-how between the beneficiary countries.

Secondly, the structure of the programme is simple and easily adaptable, making it easy to apply to countries in a variety of regions.

4.2. The types of projects and general activities envisaged constitute the basic instruments for achieving the aims and priorities set by the third countries themselves. This is also shown by the fact that the structure of the programme has been copied a number of times in applying the EU's policy for co-operation with other regions of the world (LINK, ALFA, MED-Campus).

4.3. It is also worth mentioning that, after the failure of the MED-Campus programme (due more to management problems than to structural ones), inter-university co-operation with eligible Mediterranean countries was entirely suspended, thus breaking a precious link for bringing peoples closer together and developing mutual understanding. We believe that including these countries in the Tempus programme is now the best instrument for reviving this type of co-operation.

4.4. In this context it will be important to develop an adequate information system, for a broader dissemination of the programme in all university and higher training establishments.

4.4.1. The Committee advocates the setting up of an electronic information system between higher education establishments which would further strengthen this type of scientific and cultural cooperation.

4.5. The Committee also undertakes to follow the progress of the programme, so as to inform the socio-occupational organisations of the Mediterranean countries with which it has built up close, fruitful cooperation over a period of years, and encourage them to take part in Tempus MEDA.

4.6. The Committee also hopes that the activities carried out under the Tempus programme will be integrated with those envisaged under other programmes, such as the 6th Framework Programme on research and development, and will take account of other initiatives, particularly that on the European Education Area, which should be extended to include the Mediterranean countries.

Brussels, 24 April 2002.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) Council Decision of 29 April 1999 adopting the third phase of the trans-European cooperation scheme for higher education (Tempus III) (2000-2006), 1999/311/EC - OJ L 120, 8.5.1999, p. 30.

(2) Own-initiative opinion of 18 October 2001 - OJ C 36, 8.2.2002.