TUNISIA: Higher education key to new development plan

Tunisia has adopted the 12th development plan for 2010-14 with a focus on higher education. The aim is to transform the national economy into a model driven by innovation and knowledge, in a country ranked the most improved in technology-readiness in Africa.

The plan was prepared to implement President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's programme, Together We Meet Challenges, by focusing on job creation, increasing revenue and enhancing Tunisia's positioning and influence on the regional and international scales.

Under the plan, emphasis will be placed on improving human development indicators to the level of developed countries, particularly by strengthening science and technology in higher education so that the number of graduates in these disciplines rises from 26,000 in 2009 to 37,000 in 2014, including 9,000 engineers.

The plan also aims to tackle high unemployment among graduates, one of Tunisia's major challenges, by dedicating 67% of jobs to be created to university graduates. The goal is to decrease graduate unemployment from 21.7% in 2009 to 13.6% by 2014.

Further, the plan aims to raise the technological content of different economic activities by building skills and ensuring the quality of university qualifications and their compliance with international standards.

Infrastructure will also be strengthened and 500,000 square meters of buildings constructed and fitted out to host technological projects, in addition to increasing the activities of technology parks.

Tunisia has already started conducting a set of studies, in association with internationally respected research offices, to define its capacity to improve the technological content of the economy.

The president's plan calls for boosting partnerships with the European Union, Maghreb region and countries in Africa and around the world, particularly in the areas of information and communication technology and scientific research.

It also aims to improve food security and national resources by increasing production and improving the productivity and competitiveness of agricultural products, by strengthening farmer guidance and improving the complementarity of research and production.

Emphasis will be placed on expanding irrigated areas, adjusting to climate change, reducing production losses, increasing storage capacity and developing the processing of agricultural products.

Regarding preservation of natural resources, efforts will focus on protecting agricultural land against urban expansion, erosion and desertification. Climatic factors include periods of temporary but severe drought and a long-term trend toward increasing dryness.

Earlier this year, Tunisia was ranked the most improved in technology-readiness of any country in Africa, especially the in higher education sector, according to The Global Information Technology Report 2009-2010, titled ICT for sustainability, published by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum and the French management school INSEAD.

The report assessed 133 nations on factors ranging from the cost of mobile phone calls and available internet bandwidth to the quality of higher education, to determine which countries were best positioned to compete in the information-intensive 21st century economy. It ranked Tunisia first in Africa and 39th in the world.

The report revealed Tunisia to be a flag-bearer of technology-driven excellence in Africa, the outcome of the consistent focus the government has placed on higher education and human capital development since independence, and its efforts to ensure a better fit between training supply and market demand.

A case study of Tunisia described its best practices in information and communication technology to foster growth and competitiveness, as well as the way in which the country positioned these technologies at the heart of its national development plan to build a knowledge-based economy.

Tunisia's leading position was achieved by steady investment in higher education and human capital development, the creation of a nationwide digital culture and the provision of ICT access to all. Further, an ambitious policy to set up a network of technology parks created interdisciplinary synergies between education, research, funding and the commercialisation of ICT-based products and services.