«Campus RUP builds a specific model to extend European influence through Higher Education»

Anne-Françoise Zattara-Gros, Vice President of International Relations at the University of La Réunion, highlights the role of "overseas university diplomacy" in the European strategy for Africa and Asia

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THE UNIVERSITY of La Réunion is one of the seven academic partners of Campus RUP, the alliance of universities in the outermost regions that opt for the election in the Erasmus Plus program as one of the first projects of the European Universities Initiative. La Réunion brings experience developing a university diplomacy in the Indian Ocean and the prestige of its research lines in blue economy and blue law, energy autonomy, sanitary and food security, biodiversity and natural risk management, among other fields. Its vice-president in charge of International Relations and Regional Cooperation, Professor Anne-Françoise Zattara-Gros, agreed to answer the Europa Rup questionnaire during the meeting of the international network of island universities held in the Canary Islands in April 2019.

Anne-Françoise Zattara-Gros
Anne-Françoise Zattara-Gros.– © Université de La Réunion.

What is the underlying reason for your University to participate in the Call for European Universities with a consortium that unites the seven universities in the ORs and does not join other consortiums?

This project is very important for us. At the University of La Réunion, we have a strategy that is complementary to the strategy of the universities Consortium. We the nine outermost regions share the same geographical singularity. We all form micro-economies. We are all overseas territories. Our university ecosystems are different from those of the European continent. With the Campus Rup project, we want to make synergy and collaborate in common research and training topics, in areas of common interest for all our regions, such as the Blue Economy and the Blue Law, a specific part of the Law in which we have much to contribute, clean energy and energy sustainability, tourism or biodiversity, among others. Our regions are natural laboratories for innovation in these fields. There are many fields in which, together, we can be global platforms for research and innovation. That is why this project is so important that it allows us to join forces and act together, to be a task force!

University Diplomacy and Blue Law with overseas accent

What strengths and opportunities does your university contribute to the Campus Rup project?

Our university has three strategic objectives. The first is to develop a culture of international mobility for our students. We invested in mobility and built a program of university exchanges in the Indian Ocean region. Campus Rup will allow us to work together to make mobility easier. Our second objective is to promote the brand of the University of La Réunion internationally. Working alongside the universities of the Campus Rup project, we will be able to develop an ideal platform to promote an offer of training in our universities that is different and innovative, due to its focus on specific fields of knowledge that have a strategic value for European and global innovation , such as climate change, biodiversity, clean energy, European languages or tourism. Our third strategic objective is to contribute to the development of an Indian Ocean of Higher Education. We believe in the contribution of university diplomacy, and Campus Rup is an ideal project to develop it. We must build a university diplomacy that, moreover, is a diplomacy of the islands, which is an added value, because it is a doubly singular diplomacy.

«We have a role to play in the use and protection of marine resources on this side of the world»

Campus Rup foresees that fifty percent of university students will move between the outermost universities within a period of three years. Are your institutions ready to face the technological, administrative and cultural change that is involved in building a virtual campus, recognizing credits and qualifications and understanding in English and in three other languages? In terms of physical mobility, will students have aids for their stays in other overseas universities?

Yes, we are ready. Our university has been developing international policies for some time now. We have twelve diplomas in the regional languages of the Indian Ocean. We teach Malagasy, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese…We have Spanish courses  … Our students love Spanish. And Spain is the first destination chosen by our Erasmus students. We would like to have exchange programs with the Canarian universities. In terms of virtual mobility, we have a digital teaching platform. We currently teach one Master’s program in French Language (a famous master in the world ) and an another diploma post master in private Law. And we help to build «L’Université Numérique», a platform of pedagogical resources for Higher Education, open access.

«Campus RUP and the Forward project are two major instruments for the competitiveness of innovation in the outermost regions»

Two postgraduate courses will be taught, a Master’s Degree in European Studies and another in Blue Economy. What will each of them contribute to the graduates?

It’s a very important goal for us. The context of La Réunion is very favorable for the development of both degrees, and especially, the Blue Economy and Blue Law. We have many challenges in the Indian Ocean with fishing and its regulation, gas and oil resources, biodiversity. Our neighbors are very interested in the development and training of experts in the European Union. We have a role to play in the use and protection of resources on this side of the world. The experts of La Réunion are recognized in these scientific fields. We have about 250 researchers working on them. In the Blue Economy, we have a large Océan Metiss project, a project of the French State and the Regional Council to define the special maritime zone of the southwest of the Indian Ocean. We want to build an open platform of knowledge, especially in this scientific field.

Campus Rup is committed to creating science connected to the industry, and in line with the smart specialization strategy. How will Campus Rup contribute to European innovation?

In the case of La Réunion, the Regional Council has defined the main lines of economic development, establishing measures to promote business, internationalization and the social economy. Campus Rup universities work in line with the strategic objectives of each region. For the seven project partners, it is essential to create synergies with the Foward project, in which Campus Rup universities are also involved. In Foward’s project, we are 24 partners defining a strategy of excellence in research. Campus Rup and Foward are two great instruments for the competitiveness of innovation in the outermost regions.

«Campus RUP is a different project, with a specific work model, culturally diverse, and with a high value for the European Union»

What will Campus Rup contribute to the European Higher Education Area? How will it contribute to making the outermost singularity better understood in European capitals?

The different outermost regions have geographic locations of greatest interest to the European Union. We are strategic enclaves for Europe. In the case of La Réunion, our area of influence is the Indian Ocean. I believe that the seven universities of Campus Rup can develop a specific model of influence in our geopolitical environments. This is very important for the European Commission, especially in Africa and Asia. La Réunion is located in the geographical ring of the Belt and Road Initiative, with which China wants to connect Europe, Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia. Our universities can contribute to extend European influence. The European Union has a strategy for Africa and another for Asia, to which the universities of the Campus Rup project can be useful. In the case of La Réunion, we want to be the European university of access to Africa and Asia. I think Campus Rup builds a specific model to extend European influence through Higher Education. We are a different project from the rest because we are, at the same time, a European and global project, which promotes the international mobility of our university communities, and which can be co-financed both by the EU and by third countries, such as Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia, Comoros, or South Africa. Last year we won a European mobility project in the Indian Ocean region. We were the third university in France to receive more funding for this goal of international mobility.

Why does Campus Rup deserve to be chosen as one of the first projects of the European Universities Initiative?

I think it’s a great initiative, a different project, with a specific work model, culturally diverse, with a high value for the European Union due to its scientific specialization and the influential geographic location of its universities. So I think we can win, because we are very different, singular. And if we don’t win now, i hope we’ll win in the second round.

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