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'Cooperation on higher education strengthens and deepens the whole fabric of relations existing between people, 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."
This ambitious statement is taken from the European Union's Council Decision of April 29, 1999 (1999/311/EC), adopting the third phase of the trans-European cooperation scheme for higher education (Tempus III) for the years 2000-2006.
Tempus is the EU's flagship program for higher education cooperation with Europe's neighbors. It is an EU funding program to support the modernization of higher education in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean region.
The Tempus program funds cooperation projects in the areas of curriculum development and innovation, teacher training, university management and structural reforms in higher education. It puts special emphasis on the mobility of academic and administrative staff from higher education institutions, both from the EU and the partner countries.
Tempus is the only EU funding program that deals with all aspects of higher education: it supports university reforms in partner countries, including the necessary curricular changes that are emerging from the Bologna process.
The Bologna Process, which aims at the establishment of a European Higher Education Area, was pledged in June 1999 to reform the structures of the higher education systems in a convergent way, while safeguarding the fundamental values and the diversity of European higher education. The year 2010 was defined as the target date for the achievement of the actions defined by the Bologna Declaration. Two years after signing the Bologna Declaration, European Ministers in charge of higher education, representing 32 signatories, met in Prague in May 2001 to review the progress achieved and to set directions and priorities for the coming years of the process. In September 2003, eight new signatories, including Russia and Cards countries, joined the Bologna process at the Berlin Conference. In May 2005 at the Bergen Conference, half-way to the target date of 2010, another five countries joined : Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Their common actions include the adoption of a shared framework of readable and comparable degrees; introduction of undergraduate and postgraduate levels in all countries, with first degrees no shorter than three years and relevant to the labor market; introduction of credit systems compatible with ECTS; promotion of a European dimension in quality assurance; and elimination of remaining obstacles to the free mobility of students and teachers.
In the past 17 years, Tempus has funded 6500 projects, involving 2000 universities from the EU and its partner countries. For the period 2007-2013, the annual Tempus budget is expected to be in the order of â‚¬ 50 million.
Established in 1990 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tempus has been renewed four times (Tempus II, Tempus IIbis and Tempus III - 2000 to 2006). The fourth phase of the program is currently being developed. When Tempus started as Tempus Phare, its geographical scope was Central and Eastern Europe. Following the EU enlargement process and the development of new cooperation instruments for external cooperation, its geographical scope was broadened. The European Commission has replaced the previous range of financial instruments for the delivery of external assistance with a simpler and more efficient framework. Instead of the previous wide range of geographical and thematic instruments, the new framework now comprises six instruments only. Tempus is now financed through three of these instruments: the Instrument for Pre accession Assistance that covers the Western Balkans; the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument that covers countries of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; and countries from the Central Asian region, which receive assistance from the Development and Cooperation Instrument.
Tempus is managed by the European Commission's DG Education and Culture with assistance given by the European Training Foundation. Tempus projects are organized as consortia between institutions in EU Member States and those in the partner countries. In each EU Member State, a National Contact Point offers advice and assistance to prospective and current Tempus projects. In Tempus partner countries, the EU is aided by National Tempus Offices that facilitate partner search and provide information on Tempus in their countries.
On December 31, Tempus III came to an end. Therefore, last week on March 5-6, delegates from 53 EU and Tempus partner countries attended a conference in Brussels hosted by the European Commission to discuss the design of the next phase of the program, Tempus IV, which will cover 2007 - 2013.
The three commissioners in charge of the dossier, Benita Ferrero - Waldner, European Commissioner in charge of External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy (who just visited Israel two weeks ago), J n Figel, Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, and Olli Rehn, Commissioner for Enlargement were represented at the meeting.
The representatives from the EU's ministries and the 26 Tempus partner countries from the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East drew upon their long experience with the program in their countries to agree how the program should continue. A similar meeting with students that have benefited from Tempus is due to take place in April. The European Commission will then develop the program detailed features, and plans to launch the first call for proposals under Tempus IV in the second half of 2007.
Unfortunately, Israel is not a partner in the program. The countries from the Middle East are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia.
The author is head of the International Department at the Joseph Shem-Tov Law Firm.