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The European Union (EU) has offered Egypt a grant of US$15 million for supporting research, development and innovation initiatives.

The grant was announced during the first Ministerial Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on Higher Education and Scientific Research, held in Cairo Last week (18 June).

The programme, to be implemented over four years, will help Egypt take part in European research by forging links between researchers and institutions from Egypt and the EU.

It will be used to support research and development in areas such as biotechnology, information technology, renewable energy and health.

Almost US$9 million of the grant will form an 'innovation fund' to finance joint projects between research institutions and industry to help commercialise new technology-based products and processes.

Researchers from Europe will be encouraged to participate in these projects to encourage technology and knowledge transfer between Egypt and Europe.

Hassan Moawad, former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications told SciDev.Net, "As Egypt is the first Arab country to sign such an agreement with EU, it could be used as a model for other Arab Mediterranean countries to follow."

The conference — attended by representatives of the Ministries of Higher Education and Research from the 27 EU member states and ten Mediterranean countries of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership — also adopted a declaration, 'Towards the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean higher education and research area'.

The declaration calls for the development of a Euro-Mediterranean university forum to facilitate cooperation and knowledge transfer, the development of information and communication technologies, academic exchange and the creation of a Mediterranean digital library.

It also calls for the promotion of research cooperation by setting up links among research centres as well as networks of excellence in fields of mutual interest such as renewable energy, biotechnology and environment.

Enhancing the mobility of researchers and students by simplifying visa procedures, improving brain circulation and knowledge dissemination by supporting networking between expatriate researchers are also called for.

Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, professor of mathematics at Algiers' Ecole Normale Supérieure in Algeria says the science partnership plan between Euro-Mediterranean countries will help to strengthen Arab science, technology and innovation capabilities and lead to promoting knowledge-based sustainable economic development.