New science, university and medical ‘cities’ unveiled

Tunisia has officially unveiled an economic development mega-project that will house research and science, university and medical ‘cities’ and will include a range of research centres, science institutes and branches of foreign universities.

Tunisia Economic City, a huge economic and urban development project, was officially announced during an internationally sponsored conference titled "Invest in Tunisia Startup Democracy”, held on 8 September in the capital Tunis.

Located in the Enfidha district, which lies strategically in the heart of the Mediterranean – at the crossroads between Africa, Europe and the Middle East – the 90 square kilometre Tunisia Economic City will cost US$50 billion and will provide 250,000 jobs once completed in 15 years. This will help ease an unemployment problem, especially among university graduates.

Research status

Tunisia has yet to make substantial progress in its scientific research performance, as indicated in the 2 September Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum.

Tunisia was placed 107 out of 144 countries for its capacity for innovation, 109 for the quality of its research institutions and 117 for university-industry collaboration in research and development.

However, a map showing the distribution of researchers per million inhabitants by country reports that Tunisia has 1,588 per million – above the world average.

Also, Tunisia was among the top three high-tech exporters in the Middle East and North Africa region (as percentage of manufactured exports) from 2009-11, with Lebanon and Morocco, according to a May 2013 report, Does Tunisia Export High-tech?

Research hub

The new Economic City will consist of 14 smart zones and four economic centres – tourist, academic, health and commercial – in addition to residential areas.

The academic centre will include a research hub, University City, Medical City and an agriculture centre.

“Most of the countries, communities and companies that have reached an advanced level scientifically and culturally are backed by scientific research centres,” says the Economic City website.

The research and science hub will include laboratories, a conference centre, science institutes and research centres for developed countries. The city will work to attract and accommodate international experts, researchers and Muslims and Arabs who reside in Western countries.

Official figures have highlighted the worrying scale of the brain drain among Tunisian graduates who study abroad. They indicate that the rate of student return after studies in foreign universities has been around 7% during the past five years.

“Adjacency to university, medical and pharmaceutical developments ensures that this portion of economic city can leverage the knowledge of those zones and create a viable international-grade research hub,” the Economic City website indicates.

University City

The Western world’s view of Arabs and Muslims had changed, the website states. “Our students started having difficulty being accepted in Western universities and by Western governments and their people.”

This affected the presence and education of students in Western countries and created the need to build University City.

The aim is for University City to include the best international universities and schools, to enable Arab and Tunisian students to obtain higher education in excellent conditions.

According to a 3 September 2014 foreign branch campus listing, Tunisia currently has two French campuses – ESMOD and Paris Dauphine University.

“These facilities will attract both local and international students, and allow research companies to work with educational institutions to tailor programmes and training structure to facilitate the placement of skilled knowledge workers immediately after graduation,” says the website.

Medical City will include international and local hospitals, labs, a medical college and nursing institute to enable the incorporation of the latest in medical planning, operations and technology, which will help to put Tunisia at the forefront internationally of healthcare.

The development will also have a centre for international agricultural marketing and a permanent international exhibition of agricultural and animal resources that will attract agricultural investors, companies, laboratories and manufacturers.

Science and technology expert Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid welcomed the initiative. It would “promote technology-based business, expand the scope of higher education and enhance access as well as tackling the problem of brain drain by encouraging Tunisian students to enroll locally rather than abroad,” he told University World News.