Ministry unveils plan to attract Sub-Saharan students

The ministry of higher education in Tunisia has launched several new initiatives aimed at increasing the number of foreign students, especially from Sub-Saharan Africa, to its universities.

They include the establishment of a Franco-Tunisian University of Africa and the Mediterranean, and the creation of a national agency to receive and guide foreign students and facilitate the admission of Sub-Saharan students to public universities.

“The higher education initiatives taken by the Tunisian ministry of higher education are a step in the right direction, as they aim at greater attractiveness of the country for young people from other African countries,” said Mohamed Naceur Ammar, president of the Higher Institute of Engineering and Technology.

He added in an interview with University World News: “On the other hand, they complement the efforts deployed individually by both public and private universities in this context.”

"More measures should be taken by other governmental departments to improve the conditions of living of Sub-Saharan students during their studies and to allow them to access the local job market," Ammar said.

The new institution, the Franco-Tunisian University of Africa and the Mediterranean, is the second to be set up in Africa after the announcement of a plan in 2014 to establish the Arab-French University in the Egyptian capital Cairo.

The joint university will open in 2019 and offer a dual certificate (Tunisian-French) from higher education institutes of the two countries in the humanities and social sciences, as well as new communication technologies. Access to the joint university will be free to Tunisian students through scholarships.

According to the Campus France website, the French ministry for education, higher education and research said the Franco-Tunisian university is “a new step in cooperation of excellence”, aiming to address the unemployment rate among youth and meet Tunisia’s socio-economic needs.

National agency

In order to help foreign students plan their studies, Tunisia will set up a national agency to provide students with information on educational, social, cultural, legal and economic aspects of studying in Tunisia as well as immigration and visa requirements.

The higher education initiatives were announced by Tunisia’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Salim Khalbous on the sidelines of the second edition of the Tunisian African Empowerment Forum (TAEF) 2018 which aims at internationalising Tunisian know-how in higher education and vocational training, and developing a reciprocal trust between Tunisia and its Sub-Saharan colleagues in the fields of higher education and vocational training.

TAEF also hopes to improve cooperation and exchanges between African universities and training centres and develop exchanges of academics, researchers and trainees between African countries.

Tunisia wants to attract foreign students, particularly from the African continent, to increase their numbers from the current 3% of the total foreign students in the country’s higher education institutions to 10% by 2020, Khalbous reportedly said, adding that 6,500 African students currently comprise 75% of all foreign students.

Tunisian public universities will be open for students from Sub-Saharan Africa through a mechanism that ensures free registration to strengthen Tunisian-African relations.

Besides having 13 public universities which serve approximately 260,000 students including 6,000 foreigners, Tunisia has 72 private institutions of higher education that serve 32,000 students including 4,000 foreign students, according to the Campus Africa website.

Ideal hub

“With the globalisation of higher education, African universities have embarked on profound reforms to integrate into this new trend, to cope with the massification of students and meet the need for a rapidly growing economy,” Aouni Mahjoub, president of the Virtual University of Tunis, told University World News.

“Sub-Saharan countries are at the helm of solutions to these challenges. The expertise of Tunisian university institutions and the skills of trainers in the various domains, make Tunisia well-positioned to offer its services and to challenge African students,” Mahjoub said.

“Given its geographical position, Tunisia presents itself as a privileged site for the reception of these students, or offers them distance education through digital platforms and educational resources available through the open classroom,” Mahjoub added.

Khaled Ben Driss, executive director at Tunisia-based Wevioo, international consulting and digital services group, said in order to maximise its opportunity, Tunisia needed to develop international communication campaigns and a strong marketing strategy to market Tunisia as a destination for higher education. It needed to improve and promote the quality of the student’s experience and simplify the university application processes, he said.

“These actions must be part of a global approach involving local manufacturers in the targeted African countries, making it possible to link their needs in the employment market to the university curriculum,” he said.