A representative body of the ministers of higher education and research from Islamic countries agreed, during a meeting held in the last week of November in Azerbaijan, to expand higher education cooperation with Central Asian countries.
The decision took inspiration from an earlier high-level meeting of foreign ministers of Islamic nations, held in Kazakhstan on 29 June this year, which adopted an 'Action Plan for Cooperation with Central Asia'.
The plan aims to increase coordination between the countries of Central Asia and other member nations of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in higher education, research, health and economy.
To kick-start greater cooperation, the OIC's Pakistan-based science committee, COMSTECH, signed a memorandum of understanding with Baku State University of Azerbaijan. The memorandum was signed on 24 November during a ceremony held at the university's campus in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
"Within the framework of this memorandum of understanding, we shall facilitate exchange of postgraduate students and university researchers, assist in university teacher qualification improvement, and start joint projects besides organising joint conferences on current issues and trends in university-level research," Atta-ur-Rahman, the former chief of Pakistan's Higher Education Commission and current head of COMSTECH, told University World News.
"Central Asian states are relatively new to the OIC and increased cooperation between these countries and other member nations would certainly be mutually beneficial for promoting standards of higher education, science, technology and research", said Rahman.
He added that more such university collaborations with Central Asia were being planned.
The Baku meeting of COMSTECH, under the guidance of the OIC Plan of Action for Cooperation with Central Asia, decided to select several universities and other research institutions from different member countries to start cooperation with Central Asian nations.
The meeting agreed to provide support to Central Asian universities by assisting in arranging grants for research and development, helping to commercialise research and networking selected centers of science and technology from Central Asian universities with universities and research organisations in other OIC member countries.
"We are soon going to invite universities in Central Asia to link up with other academic bodies in rest of the member states by joining our new initiative, The Higher Education Network, approved at the same meeting," Rahman said.
"This start of higher education cooperation is going to open new avenues for larger scale cooperation between OIC institutions and Central Asian states, which could lead to socio-economic development and help us achieve the millennium development goals," Abel Maharramov, the rector of Baku State University, told University World News.\