Granada in southern Spain is to play host to a new university with a difference.
The Euro-Arab University, opening in October, is designed to act as an academic bridgehead between Europe and the Arab world, encouraging closer relations and aiding the transfer of technology. It will offer tailor-made courses to students from both Europe and Arabic-speaking countries, bringing together experts from different cultures to launch new masters programmes.
The initiative was launched in 1984 when the European Commission was looking at ways of strengthening dialogue with Arab and north African countries. Medcampus, the European Union's institutional exchange and training programme, is one tangible result.
The Euro-Arab University is intended to be a permanent venue for specialist training and has received backing from the Arab League and the Spanish government. In addition to its academic role, the university has wider political aims.
Purifacion Fenoll Hach-Ali, executive director of the university, and professor of mineralogy at the University of Granada, said: "The idea is to bring together important people who have a totally different outlook on life."
Over the past two years, the university has organised a series of seminars on subjects judged to be of special relevance to developing countries of the Arab world. With input from leading authorities from European, Arab and North African universities, these workshops have so far focused on food technology, rural development, applied geology and solar energy.
The emphasis is on sustainability and pragmatism. Solar energy, for instance, was chosen as "it is a technique for obtaining energy from the sun, something which the Arab countries have plenty of, and which could be of great benefit", said Professor Hach-Ali.
The workshops allow participants to catch up on the latest developments and make contacts for future research.
A second function is to look at setting up masters courses in these areas under the auspices of the Euro-Arab University.
The first fruit of these encounters is a masters degree in solar energy which, with help from the Complutense University of Madrid's Institute of Solar Energy, is due to start in October. A masters in Euro-Arab commercial relations, also planned for October, is already attracting interest from potential students.
Professor Hach-Ali expects a typical student to be a North African or Arab postgraduate, already working and looking to put the knowledge acquired in Granada into practice on his or her return. It is unlikely they would experience cultural problems at the new university. Spain, more than any other European country, has strong links with Islamic culture, having been ruled by the Moors for more than 700 years. Granada was the last outpost of the Moors in Spain until 1496. The state university currently has more than 700 North African students, and has links with the Moroccan University of Tetuan.