TUNISIA: President's plans emphasise economic priorities

Tunisian higher education must conform to international standards and adapt to the demands of the labour market and knowledge economy, under the Presidential plan 'Together let's meet the challenges' that covers the period 2009-14, reported La Presse of Tunis.

More than ever, it was vital to build strong links between universities and economic enterprise and to achieve a high rate of employability for all the skills emerging from higher education, said the paper.

As the country was completing introduction of the degree structure based on the Bologna process of three, five and eight years' higher studies, higher education was increasingly specialising in 'applied' bachelor degrees geared towards professional and work-related training.

The aim was for two-thirds of new graduates to hold applied degrees at the end of the 2014-15 academic year, following the creation of a new generation of specialised teachers, said La Presse.

The first priority was to meet the need for managers, with an aim of training 9,000 engineers. During the period of the plan all libraries would be digitised and excellence in foreign languages, especially English, would be required in all university courses to satisfy employment needs.

In a separate article La Presse also reported on a conference at the University of Gabès, part of its campaign to promote collaboration with 'economic enterprises' and attract regional companies to act as partners in providing professional training for students.

The paper noted that nearly 3,500 students at Gabès needed work placements this year - including more than 1,100 studying engineering, 2,200 taking applied bachelor courses and 74 professional masters students.

The meeting reviewed the legislation concerning placements for students in public and privately run offices and companies, the aims of internships, their monitoring and assessment, and students' rights.

Rached Boussema, Director of university innovation at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, explained that the 'training company' label for workplaces that catered for students was based on the European model.

He said the number of applied degree courses continued to increase in line with labour market needs and professionalisation of university courses. These contributed in turn to an increasing demand from companies and for jointly run placements.