New 10-year higher education and research reform plan

Tunisia is planning a 10-year reform initiative for higher education and research that will kick off this year and will focus on improving the employability of graduates and revitalising research.

This was announced by Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Chiheb Bouden at a 16 June national conference, held in the capital Tunis to present the broad outline of the 10-year reform plan.

The initiative is based on a set of principles including improving the quality of university education and the employability of graduates, establishing good governance at and greater autonomy of universities, and proper resources management.

Besides focusing on consolidating the pedagogical training of academics and promoting research and innovation, the reform will also aim to revise the university map across Tunisia and improve educational conditions at universities.

Reforming university education

Under the reforms, there will be urgent measures taken to relax central controls over higher education and move towards greater autonomy for institutions by transferring to them certain responsibilities currently undertaken by central government.

It is hoped this change will empower and encourage universities to take greater responsibility for the quality of programmes and labour-market outcomes of graduates, and get rid of bureaucratic obstacles impeding the efficiency of university management and research.

Training programmes leading to certificates will be held in special centres to improve the chances of university graduates finding jobs, in order to tackle a severe jobless graduates problem, which has increased sharply and reached an unemployment rate of 31.4% in 2014.

Higher education curricula will be revised to match international norms and will become more relevant to labour market needs. Engineering courses will be upgraded and an entrepreneurship perspective will be introduced across education and research programmes.

There are also measures to improve quality in private higher education institutions, which have boomed in recent years, increasing in both number and capacity and now attracting about 10% of all university students.

The reform project called for the creation of an evaluation system using performance indicators to monitor the private sector’s performance and ensure that private institutions attain national and international teaching, learning and research standards.

Reforming the research system

To promote research within universities, links will be forged among actors in the science, technology and innovation communities.

The quality and number of partnerships involving researchers and entrepreneurs will be enhanced, a research and innovation network will be established and innovation promoted through the creation of high value-added scientific institutions and centres.

A Higher Commission for Scientific Research will be set up to act as a supportive and consultative body for the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

It will set science priorities, initiatives and strategies, provide expert opinion and promote international and regional scientific cooperation.

Tunisia’s impending joining of the European Union’s huge Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme – it would be the first Arab and North African country to do so – will boost the reform initiative.

Negotiations started this month, and in October 2015 Tunisia is expected to ink an agreement with the European Commission and officially join Horizon 2020, which is centered on research, innovative industries, societal challenges, postgraduate training and graduate recruitment.

Next steps

Mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the reform project will be established, to measure its implementation and achievements.

Meetings will be held across Tunisia from June to September 2015 as part of a dialogue involving all interested parties, and proposals will be included in the reform’s guidance document, which is to be adopted next November, according to Tunis Afrique Presse.