At this point in the century, no one doubts that artificial intelligence (AI) is set to be the mainstay of the new economic, social and technological transformation of the coming decades, the agent that will transform the world as the steam engine or electricity did. And if robotics (R) is added to this, the tandem AI+R (AIR) constitutes the main engine of the fourth industrial revolution.
We cannot leave anyone behind in this revolution; the greatest success of the global society in which we live will be to help everyone to get on this unstoppable train. What better way to support this development than through education?
The European Union, through the financial support of its Key Action 2 'Cooperation for Innovation and the Exchange of Good Practices' within the Erasmus+ programme, contributes significantly to the promotion of partnerships between universities for the development of capacities in the field of higher education.
In this spirit, the UGR participates in the DeCAIR project (Developing Curricula for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics), made up of a consortium of five universities in Jordan and Lebanon plus five other European institutions (two in Italy, one in Germany and one in Greece, apart from the Spanish one). The project is coordinated by the University of Jordan. DeCAIR offers an unprecedented opportunity: to collaborate in the development of bachelor's and master's degree curricula in Jordan and Lebanon to contribute to educational growth in artificial intelligence and robotics.
The West Asia and North Africa region is experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of engineering graduates entering the market. Many of them are graduating in various fields of engineering, such as Electrical, Mechanical, Electronics or Computer Engineering. Although they are well equipped with basic engineering knowledge and skills, they are generally not sufficiently specialised in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics to be able to tackle real-life problems and find practical and durable solutions for them.
At the same time, many industrial and technical sectors are becoming highly mature in several countries in the region. They need highly skilled and innovative people who can solve the real-life problems they face using the latest unconventional creative and disruptive tools that are becoming available to them, such as machine learning, data science, computer vision and robotics.
To respond to this movement, existing undergraduate and graduate programmes in related engineering fields in Jordan and Lebanon need to be updated and brought in line with modern technological developments in the field of AI and robotics. In addition to the lack of specialised qualifications of faculty and technicians, these countries also lack modern laboratories and equipment to address problems that can benefit from AI and robotics solutions.
In particular, Jordan has a high proportion of engineers; one in 50 Jordanians is an engineer (more than 84,000 in electrical and mechanical engineering-related specialties). However, their skills are often inadequate for the labour market and these engineers suffer from a high unemployment rate (26% in Electrical Engineering, 21% in Mechanical Engineering). In Jordan, current undergraduate and graduate engineering programmes do not include modern AIR courses, nor are there any specialised graduate programmes in these disciplines.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is suffering from one of the worst unemployment crises in its history, exacerbated by national and regional political instability and the massive influx of refugees fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria. Lebanese youth bear the brunt of the country's economic problems. The overall unemployment rate in Lebanon is 25%, and unemployment among those under 25 is 37% (2017 figures). However, Lebanon has witnessed in recent years a growing number of open source hardware robotics competitions and contests in which Lebanese youth can participate. This reflects the growing importance of AIR technologies, which are attracting different stakeholders in Lebanon. This requires the provision of training and challenge programmes in the field of AIR to the country's student body, hence the need to increase the penetration of AIR techniques in the Lebanese higher education system.
On 19 January 2021, the project kicked off with the Kickoff Meeting held telematically with the participation of the ten members of the consortium: University of Jordan, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Technical University of Tafila, University of Lebanon, Arab University of Beirut, University of Pisa, University of Genoa, University of Genoa, University of Granada, University of Stuttgart and the Greek NGO Creative Thinking Development.
The project was launched with the hope of contributing during its three years of development to the definitive impulse that Jordan and Lebanon need to make the educational leap required by this new world towards which we are heading in the 21st century.
The University of Granada is currently participating in 19 Erasmus+ Capacity Building projects in the field of higher education, being the coordinator of three of them. As far as Jordan and Lebanon are concerned, the DeCAIR project is the third Erasmus+ project of this type that gives our university the opportunity to work with universities in these two countries to improve different aspects of their higher education.
Submitted by José Antonio Sierra, Hispanic Studies Advisor