New regime changes direction of higher education

Tunisia is preparing for a change of direction for universities away from the policies of the old regime of former president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali. There are plans to set up a national consultation on higher education to improve quality rather than increase the quantity of institutions.

Meanwhile, a new fund is being set up by the United States for bursaries for about 200 Tunisian science and technology students.

At a press briefing Abdelfettah Kassah, director of student affairs at the Education Ministry, blamed the former regime – overthrown in 2011 – for bad educational decisions throughout the system, from primary to university level, reported La Presse of Tunis.

Kassah said that in an attempt to improve the image of Tunisian education policy abroad, Ben Ali’s government had introduced measures that increased the pass rate of the school-leaving examination, the baccalauréat.

As a consequence, universities had been set up to cater for the increase in student numbers without any thought as to what subjects were taught or the needs of the employment market.

Most of the institutions created during the past 10 years – including 20 universities in 2003 alone – had not benefited from the necessary human and financial resources to give quality education to students.

Conditions were worst in the regions, and some did not even possess laboratories, reported La Presse.

In other institutions, students who had not yet finished their doctoral studies were recruited as assistants to teach subjects other than their own specialisations because of the absence of qualified lecturers, who refused to work in the regions.

This had had a negative influence on standards in these universities, said Kassah. It was a “heavy inheritance from the Ben Ali period”.

He said the ministry was planning to set up a national consultation covering several themes including a diagnosis of the current situation in higher education, an inquiry into, and redefinition of, university management and evaluation, revision of the LMD system (based on the Bologna process of three, five and eight years’ higher studies) and evaluation of scientific research.

“Our aim is not to create new higher education institutions, but to improve the quality and conditions of teaching in universities located in the country’s interior. It is also to give the necessary importance to continuing and distance education in the age of the technological revolution,” said Kassah.

He said the number of students enrolled in universities totalled 320,000 for the 2012-13 academic year, and announced the creation of three new institutions: a Higher Institute of Technological Studies (ISET) in Kelibia, the faculty of science and technical studies in Sidi Bouzid, and the Higher Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology in Kasserine.

Kassah said new university housing and restaurants had been opened in a number of places to cope with the increased numbers of students, reported La Presse.

Meanwhile, a new fund is being launched by the United States to provide bursaries for 200 Tunisian science and technology students, reported La Presse.

At a press conference attended by the US ambassador to Tunisia, Jacob Walles, the Tunisian Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister Moncef Ben Salem said there were now 39 conventions of cooperation between the two countries.

The number of visits between officials had increased and a commission for political and economic partnership was set up in Washington DC in 2011.

He said that under the new fund US$10 million would be allocated to nearly 200 Tunisian students attending ISETs who wished to spend a year studying at a US university in 2013-14. The fields covered by the fund are agriculture, engineering, management, education, information and communication technologies, tourism, early childhood and media.

* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original report.