UNIMED, the Mediterranean Universities Union, elected Kherieh Rassas as its first woman president during its 2023 General Assembly, held March 15 and 16 at the University of Granada, in Spain.
During the meeting, UNIMED also elected a new board of directors and welcomed ten new universities into the network, bringing its membership to 153 institutions from 25 countries.
UNIMED is a network of universities and research institutions that promotes academic cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean region and in Sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, and in the Western Balkans.
Its 2023 General Assembly brought together more than 100 participants from member universities and international partner institutions to discuss priorities and to collect universities’ input regarding a Ministerial Conference on Higher Education that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) will hold in Fez, Morocco, this fall.
Other issues the assembly discussed included the role of the universities in global security and stability as main actors at the crossroads of education, research, innovation, and employability over the Mediterranean region and beyond.
“Our goal is not merely to transfer and export knowledge from one shore of the Mediterranean to the other but to interact, complement and expand our academic efforts to enrich research and equip youth with skills and competencies to combat poverty and unemployment.”Kherieh Rassas, a vice president of Palestine’s An-Najah University and UNIMED’s newly elected president
Marcello Scalisi, UNIMED’s director, said: “We have many challenges to face on many common themes and priorities: Climate change, environment, migration, university governance, digital education, employability, and much more. But the most important commitment is to strengthen, day after day, the reasons for our being together as an antidote to barbarism, and for a Mediterranean that can finally turn into an open and inclusive area.”
First Female President
Kherieh Rassas is vice president for international and external affairs at Palestine’s An-Najah National University and has been involved in UNIMED’s activities and projects since 2007.
In her first talk as the organisation’s new president, Rassas told the assembly that “UNIMED should not be a place where we discuss politics or differences but rather a place where we allocate our resources and experiences and pour our efforts into staying resilient to incorporate technology interventions, plan ahead for the fifth industrial revolution, and combat collective threats like further pandemics, financial crises, and cyber-attacks.”
She added: “Our goal is not merely to transfer and export knowledge from one shore of the Mediterranean to the other but to interact, complement and expand our academic efforts to enrich research and equip youth with skills and competencies to combat poverty and unemployment.”
Besides her academic career, Rassas has been personal advisor to the former Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and dean and founder of the first Optometry College in Palestine. She also established the only Global Health Institute in Palestine during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rassas has received several international awards. In 2005, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth honoured her for establishing the community eye health programme in Palestine. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron knighted her as a Chevalier of France’s National Order of Merit, in recognition of her efforts to promote French-Palestinian relations at the governmental, educational, and private sector levels.
Rassas will work together with UNIMED’s secretary general, Hmaid Ben Aziza, former rector of the University of Tunis, and with UNIMED’s vice presidents, who represent Spain’s University of Barcelona and Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome.
The assembly also reconfirmed Wail Benjelloun, emeritus professor of Mohammed V University of Rabat, as UNIMED’s honorary president.
The new board of directors represents universities from Algeria, Cyprus, France, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Tunisia, and Turkey.
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