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EU helps Lebanese universities improve standards

A project aimed at enhancing higher education in Lebanon was launched on Tuesday with funding from Tempus, the European Union's program for cooperation in higher learning.

In a conference held at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, the Quality Assurance for Higher Education in Lebanon (QAHEL) was introduced as a new way to "enhance the quality of participating universities and the system of higher learning in Lebanon," according to Dr. Mohammad Loutfi, the administrator of the project grant.

"The idea is to use Europe's experience in the field to illustrate the advantages and problems linked to the development of quality management in higher education," he said.

While European expertise is deemed necessary for the elaboration of standards and practices in the field, resolutions will not be imposed by the EU on Lebanon. The standards will only be used as benchmarks to elaborate Lebanon's own standards and practices.

"The Bologna Process - initiated in 1999 by the European ministers of education that rendered the different systems of education governing universities across the EU more compatible and comparable - will only be used as a general guideline for the work to be carried out by the participants in QAHEL over the coming year," professor Andris Barblan, the ex-secretary general of the Association of European Universities, told The Daily Star.

The one-year program will be carried out by a consortium of institutions, including the Middle East Canadian Academy of Technology, the Beirut Arab University, the American University of Beirut, the Hariri Canadian University and the Directorate General of Higher Education.

According to Bassem Kaissi, project coordinator, the participating institutions will design and develop three training courses in quality assurance for higher education.

The courses will use European standards in quality management and education and the requirements of Lebanese institutions in terms of providing education opportunities adapted to the region's job market and attracting foreign students.

Lebanese academics from all institutions of higher learning will be trained in these three courses in order to set-up self-assessment centers in their respective institutions.

The ultimate goal of QAHEL is to develop a universal set of standards, procedures and guidelines on quality assurance and to explore ways of ensuring an adequate peer-review system for quality assurance and accreditation agencies. This will in turn facilitate the accreditation process for Lebanese institutions of higher education.

"If we succeed in setting up a sort of national accreditation committee recognized by European and American accreditation committees, then when this national committee accredits a Lebanese university, the accreditation process from the US or the EU becomes almost immediate," said Ahmad Al-Jammal, director general of higher education in Lebanon.

"In light of the expansion in the field of higher education in Lebanon and the resultant increased competition in the job market, quality assurance has become a condition for the development and survival of any institution of higher learning," said Education Minister Khaled Qabbani, who went on to highlight the importance of cooperation among Lebanese and European universities.

Marseille,02 27 2007
Redaction
The Daily Star
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