Mobility partnership with Europe unveiled

Tunisia and the European Union have formally established a mobility partnership that, among other things, will help facilitate mutual recognition of qualifications, enhance the exchange of higher education information and experience, and foster the flow of researchers and students. There are 10 European countries involved in the partnership.

The 3 March declaration of the Tunisia-EU mobility partnership is the second of its kind with a country bordering the Mediterranean, following the signing of the first partnership with Morocco in June 2013.

"This mobility partnership aims to facilitate the movement of people between the EU and Tunisia and to promote a common and responsible management of existing migratory flows, including by simplifying procedures for granting visas," said Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for home affairs

Tunisia-EU mobility partnership

According to the Tunisian national statistics institute, the country's young population is still struggling with high unemployment, which has been hovering above 30% for the last decade.

Among some tertiary-educated groups, especially in the interior, unemployment is a staggering 60%, according to the 1 March 2014 report, Tunisia: Too smart to fail.

The graduate unemployment problem was a major factor in the birth of the Arab spring in December 2010, when street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi (26) set himself on fire in the central Sidi Bouzid governorate, an act that was meant to draw attention to the interior's high unemployment, especially among the youth and college graduates.

To deal with these challenges, one objective of the partnership is to improve the information available to qualified Tunisian citizens on employment, education and training opportunities available in the 10 EU member states involved in the partnership - Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Under the initiative, the EU and Tunisia will jointly prepare a full set of balanced measures to facilitate the issuing of visas for certain groups of people, particularly students and researchers.

The partnership will set up a framework for qualifications to make it easier to recognise degrees and their equivalence, to enable the mobility of students and academics.

Impact on student flows

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics' student mobility interactive map, the total number of Tunisian students studying abroad in 2010 was 19,506. The number of international students studying in Tunisia was 2,404.

"Clearly, Tunisia is on the move - both in terms of its students' mobility and as a study abroad destination in its own right, especially for Sub-Saharan students," Hilmi Salem, an Arab higher education consultant, told University World News.

"Definitely, the Tunisia-EU mobility partnership will enhance the flow of Tunisian students to European countries."

Salem said this would especially be the case for France, Germany and Italy, which are involved in the partnership and are Tunisia's top study abroad destinations, receiving 77% of Tunisian students.

Further development

In line with the partnership's aims, Tunisia is cooperating with UK-based Liverpool John Moores University to develop a programme for graduate employment, according to a 27 February report in the Guardian.

The programme will introduce a labour market-matched model of career development and employability that is co-developed and co-delivered with stakeholders including local employers, and a skills certificate programme for students together with a skills verification interview with an employer.

There will also be expert guidance, consultancy and mentoring for university leadership teams on listening to the student and employer voice, labour markets and opportunity structures, digital profiling and social networking, and marketing and engagement.