Regional Cooperation Council adopts ambitious research and higher education goals

Several initiatives on research, innovation and higher education have found their way into the next two years’ (2014-2016) workplan of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) – a regionally owned and led framework for the promotion of cooperation in South East Europe (SEE) and supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

The workplan’s activities start this month, building on the achievements of its 2011-2013 workplan, which included finalising the Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation for the Western Balkans, in collaboration with the World Bank and the European Commission.

Research is one of its 11 targets to ensure “integrated, smart, inclusive, sustainable growth underpinned by good governance”.

“Smart growth represents the commitment of the region to innovate and compete on value-added rather than labour costs in the long run,” it says. “Targeted investments in education, retaining the best and brightest talent that the SEE region has to offer and raising the absorptive capacity of business and research communities to use existing technologies and develop new ones will be at the focus of regional action. ”

As part of prioritising ‘smart growth’, the RCC plans to focus on “strengthened research capacities for innovation” and on “enhanced regional cooperation in higher education, including doctoral studies”.

Research and innovation

The RCC will work towards the establishment of the Regional Research Platform envisioned by the Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation for the Western Balkans. This platform would be a “transparent and efficient regional mechanism which will supervise and govern the implementation and updating of the strategy and its action plans.”

This would, it adds, “gradually take over coordination of donor activities in the region; improve governance and effectiveness in the field of research and innovation; and establish the Research Excellence Fund, which aims at strengthening the level of research and its quality in key scientific domains”.

It would also “develop a centres of excellence programme, focusing on research areas with comparative regional advantage to enable a regional smart specialisation; create a regional technology transfer facility; and establish an innovation finance facility”.

Higher education

The RCC’s workplan envisages the creation of the Regional Platform for Benchmarking and Cooperation in Higher Education that would “encourage strategic level debate in the region on higher education issues which will impact on its development” and would lead to the future Regional Higher Education Area.

“Regional Platform has aboard higher education institutions and authorities from seven countries from the region,” it says. “It aims to: foster a regional ‘collective voice’ in higher education that resonates regionally, nationally and internationally; encourage strategic debate in the region on higher education;

share good practice in higher education structural reform; develop benchmarking for higher education quality issues; promote regional cooperation and strategic partnerships in higher education.”

By 2016 it should result in a roadmap for higher education reform; increased professionalisation of public governance and management; high and comparable standards of quality in higher education programmes; better mobility of students, academics, and admin staff; and increased cooperation and capability of institutions to both respond to national expectations and compete successfully in the international arena.

Regional doctoral studies and reform

It also says it will support regional cooperation in doctoral studies by developing regional programmes, which 9 universities from the region have already signed up to.

“These programmes will foster cooperation amongst universities in promoting and supporting mobility of doctoral candidates, develop infrastructure for mutual recognition of awarded doctoral degrees, initiate exchange of post-doctoral researchers, participate in collaborative research grants in order to increase institutional capacities both in research expertise and infrastructure, etc.”

The Regional Platform will also support the establishment of the Education Reform Initiative for the region, “for cooperation in the field of education and training” to “support national reforms in education and training through regional capacity-building, transfer of know-how and linking these efforts to European frameworks for education development”.

Ambitious goals – let’s hope they are soon felt in the region where researchers and students are becoming increasingly desperate and eager to leave.

Mićo Tatalović

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