French Company Steps Up Support for Higher Education in Lebanon
BEIRUT—A French container shipping company has stepped up its aid to university students in Lebanon with a new scholarship programme that could help to curb the exodus of young talent from a country grappling with a deep economic crisis.
Under its latest scholarship programme, the Marseille-based transportation and shipping company CMA CGM has committed to provide 240 scholarships to students of the American University of Beirut and Saint Joseph University of Beirut in fields related to the company’s business.
The scholarships will be dispensed in batches of 40 per year for each of the two universities over a three-year period. The beneficiaries will be selected from Lebanese students who meet academic criteria and who are majoring in management, science, economics, or engineering.
Collaborations at AUB
Imad Baalbaki, the American University of Beirut’s vice president for advancement and business development, told Al-Fanar Media the relationship between the French company and Lebanese universities was a long one. Jacques Saadé, the late French-Lebanese billionaire businessman, founded the company in the 1970s.
The new scholarship programme is one of many areas in which the university and the company plan to cooperate, Baalbaki said. “It is extremely important to have this link between the university and its ecosystem, whether it is businesses, industry, government or the community in general.”
“We have to have these bridges [between the university and companies], first of all for us to impact them so that they develop, but also for us to learn from them in terms of what the new trends are, what their needs are, and what programmes or courses we can add” to meet those needs.Imad Baalbaki, the American University of Beirut’s vice president for advancement and business development
“We have to have these bridges, first of all for us to impact them so that they develop, but also for us to learn from them in terms of what the new trends are, what their needs are, and what programmes or courses that we can add” to meet those needs, he added.
The university plans to broaden its cooperation with the company through the introduction of executive training and the development of programmes relevant to the company, like logistics and information technology, and special projects like data analytics that could be used in company decision making.
Under the collaboration, scholarship recipients will be offered training and internships with the company, which has about 400 offices in over 160 countries.
“They already created a lot of jobs at a time when people, mostly young graduates, were leaving the country,” Baalbaki said. “Students might eventually be offered a job with CMA CGM, but it is not a condition to get the scholarship.”
With the steep devaluation of the Lebanese pound, banks placed restrictions on depositors’ accounts after the onset of the economic crisis in 2019. Most universities now demand that tuition fees are paid in “fresh” U.S. dollars—that is, dollars deposited in Lebanese banks after 2019—or the equivalent. That means Lebanese university students’ need for financial support has increased tremendously.
“The need is huge,” Baalbaki said. “More than 5,000 students have applied for financial aid this year. On average we are giving about 60 percent financial assistance.”
Welcome Assistance at USJ
Saint Joseph University of Beirut (USJ) also welcomed the collaboration with the French company because of the same need to help students complete their education.
“CMA CGM’s solidarity with the students helps promote the university’s mission to support each of our students and provide an education of excellence,” Cynthia-Maria Ghobril Andrea, director of the university’s foundation, told Al-Fanar Media. “The beneficiaries will have the chance to benefit from mentoring, employability and professional experience, which adds value to their curriculum.”
“CMA CGM’s solidarity with the students helps promote the university’s mission to support each of our students and provide an education of excellence. The beneficiaries will have the chance to benefit from mentoring, employability and professional experience, which adds value to their curriculum.”Cynthia-Maria Ghobril Andrea, director of the foundation for Saint Joseph University of Beirut.
More than 50 percent of USJ students are currently benefiting from financial aid, with 7,300 scholarships, she added. “Over the past three years, 2,795 financial aid applications have been granted. This year, the number will increase, thanks to the scholarships offered by the CMA CGM Group.”
Ghobril Andrea said she hoped the university’s partnership with the company would continue. “Granting scholarships to students who, after receiving their degree, will be able to be hired serves the country, which is currently suffering from a dangerous brain drain of its skilled youth,” she said.
200 Additional Scholarships
The new scholarships are in addition to 200 scholarships the company previously pledged to provide over 10 years to Lebanese students wishing to pursue further education at the prestigious French business school HEC Paris.
The scholarships will be provided through the “CMA CGM Excellence Fund for Lebanon,” launched last year.
In a statement, the company said the scholarships are aimed at “preserving the continuity of education in Lebanon.” The Excellence Fund for Lebanon is part of the CMA CGM group’s “ongoing support for the economic, social and university education fabric during the financial crisis that Lebanon is enduring,” the company said.
CMA CGM has over 2,000 employees in Lebanon and is one of the country’s leading employers. Last year, the company created 1,100 jobs in Lebanon, which helped reduce the number of Lebanese youth leaving the country for greener pastures abroad.
Speaking at the time the HEC Paris scholarships were announced, Rodolphe Saadé, the company’s chairman and chief executive, said: “A country’s future is built by its youth. … Staying true to our Lebanese roots and to our commitment to education, we have decided to take action by giving Lebanese students an opportunity to benefit from first-class education.”
Education experts agree that globalisation and the rise of the knowledge economy have increased the need for strategic partnerships between academia and industry. These partnerships can involve collaborative research, onsite co-location, and access to talent and continuous professional development.
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