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On 27 September 2011, the European Commission adopted a EUR 350 million SPRING programme (Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth), in line with the new priorities of the European Neighbourhood Policy announced last year. The aim of this programme is to provide support for democratic transformation, institution building and economic growth in the Southern Neighbourhood countries in the wake of the Arab Spring. Together with democracy, growth, job creation and microfinance, higher education is one of the four key areas on the agenda of this newly adopted plan.
Just prior to this development, on 23 September, the extension of the Erasmus Mundus higher education programme for the Southern Neighbourhood countries was approved as part of the four-aspect SPRING plan. By implementing a set of measures in higher education, the European Commission hopes to achieve “better understanding and mutual enrichment between the EU and neighbouring countries by creating possibilities for student and academic staff mobility (for example, the opportunity to study in universities in EU Member States) and exchange of knowledge and skills”. The overall budget for the higher education programme, which will be spread over four years, is EUR 66 million.
Although one can only applaud the European Commission’s decisions to consolidate the resources for the support of the region’s on-going transformations, including in the area of higher education, it is difficult to estimate the impact of this decision on the Arab’s world broader regional development. For example, critics highlight the fact that despite being popular and successful in the region, Erasmus Mundus and TEMPUS primarily target the intellectual elite, and thus by-pass the majority of the population who will deal with realities on the ground in the post-Arab spring context.European Commission, SPRING programme European Commission, Erasmus Mundus Europe’s World