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Middle East ‘knowledge hub’ opens in Marseilles - Project to help boost capacity for sharing education (Daily Star)

The World Bank, the French city of Marseilles and the Institut de la Mediterrannee have begun a new center called the Middle East and North Africa Knowledge Hub (MKH) in Marseilles. The aim of the project is to help boost capacity for knowledge sharing and education in the MENA region.

The inauguration of the hub followed the of the second annual Knowledge for Development conference which was held in Marseilles from Sunday through Tuesday. Sponsored by the World Bank and the Institut de la Mediterrannee, the conference discussed the connections between trade, competitiveness and the knowledge economy in the Middle East.

The events in Marseilles came as the MENA region faces unprecedented social and economic challenges.

According to a recent World Bank report, the region must double today’s employment levels by 2020, creating 100 million additional jobs. An increasingly educated young population is entering already strained labor markets, with unemployment rates averaging 15 percent. Jobless rates are on average 50 percent higher among women than among men. “Given the demographic trend in the region, boosting trade and competitiveness will be key to creating jobs for the burgeoning youth population ­ and this will require tapping into people’s quality of education, creativity, and entrepreneurial skills,” says Christiaan Poortman, vice-president for the Middle East and North Africa region at the World Bank.

The region remains poorly integrated with the rest of the world. It has 5 percent of the world’s population, but only 0.7 percent of its internet connections. Trade represents 12 percent of GDP compared to almost 50 percent in East Asia.

“Demand from the Middle East for knowledge and learning services has been growing as the region recognizes that its competitive position in the global economy depends critically on building its capacity, especially in those areas most relevant to the ‘knowledge based economy,’” says Frannie A. Leautier, vice-president of the World Bank Institute, the capacity building arm of the World Bank. “The knowledge hub will facilitate global knowledge exchange and learning services, connecting people, firms, and institutions in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.”

The MKH will initially work on four key themes identified as priorities for the region: Knowledge for Development; Education and Employment, including youth issues; Urban Management; and Governance and Transparency; with water, health issues and infrastructure possibly added later.

“The hub’s location in Marseilles, a crossroads of Europe and the Middle East and North Africa, will help the World Bank develop sustainable partnerships with knowledge institutions in Europe and the MENA region,” says Jean-Francois Richard, World Bank vice-president for Europe.

It is hoped that the MKH will act as a “knowledge broker,” matching regional demand for knowledge services with global supply, as well as promoting distance learning programs in French and Arabic. Video-conferencing technology will provide interactive access to over 60 countries. The hub will help to connect development experts in MENA countries with their counterparts in Europe and other blobal regions, and MENA institutions such as universities and think tanks will be encouraged to share their expertise.

Staffed by a small team of around 10 people, the hub will develop its own education programs in Arabic, English and French as well as bringing together already existing resources, with the city of Marseilles supplying office space and technical support.

The Knowledge for Development conference which ended Tuesday in Marseilles was built on the first meeting held in the city in 2002 that identified the need to address MENA’s unemployment problem in the region.

The knowledge economy is seen as a product of globalization and improved telecommunications and relies mainly on human resources, education and information flows to achieve growth. The conference brought together a range of participants from the private sector, government agencies and the World Bank who discussed how to move the region toward greater integration in the world economy.

Beirut 18-03-2004
Redaction
The Daily Star



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