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Foreign ministers from countries in Asia and the Middle East agreed last week to back a proposal to create an 'electronic university' serving their regions.

They endorsed the plan, proposed by Malaysia, at a meeting of the 30 member states of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) on 23-24 May in Doha, Qatar.

The ministers also agreed to cooperate on agriculture, information technology and environmental education, and backed the ACD Energy Forum as sole channel for energy cooperation among member states.

Malaysia is providing US$50 million to launch the e-university. It will be managed by Open University Malaysia, which has run online courses since 2002.

The e-university is set to open in 2007 with an initial intake of 4,100 students. It aims to have 28,450 by 2011. Undergraduate, masters and PhD degrees in information technology, science, health and engineering will be among the courses on offer.

The ACD ministers also endorsed a Chinese plan for agricultural cooperation, focused on promoting technology transfer and sharing policies and expertise.

Thailand offered to help other countries face the threat of bird flu by training personnel, sharing information, and providing input into countries' plans for preparing for a human flu pandemic.

The ministers also agreed that Indonesia and the Philippines would coordinate an ACD energy action plan. This is expected to focus on promoting research and developing infrastructure as well as boosting renewable energy.

The 6th ACD Ministerial Meeting will be held in South Korea next year.

Link to Doha declaration (in Arabic)

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