Pioneering digital development to further modernise HE sector
Béchir Allouch, a technology professor at the Virtual University of Tunis, described the system as a “pioneering development” in the North Africa region.
“An important first step has already been taken. All Tunisian universities and the ministry of higher education and scientific research have pooled their resources and are in the process of setting up a sectoral cloud that will benefit all higher education and research institutions,” Allouch told University World News.
“During [the] next months, modules and components will be successively developed and made available to users with the objective of equipping the higher education sector by the end of 2024 with an … interoperable and user-centric information system through digitalised services and processes,” added Allouch, who is also the former president of the Tunisian Association of e-Learning.
Functions and services
Some of the functions or services that will be centralised include a student space, a space dedicated to teachers and their interaction with their institutions and the ministry, a domain for the ministry and its administrative needs, as well as a socio-economic field dedicated to organisations, companies and government bodies, both nationally and internationally, that want to interact with the higher education sector.
The space and its services will support the management of students, including performance management, research activity management as well as aspects related to teaching and learning.
“These systems are essential to ensure the proper functioning at [higher education] sectoral level and steering by the ministry of higher education, but also within the institutions of the sector, namely universities, higher education institutions, research centres, [and] offices of university works, [as well as] service institutions under the supervision of the ministry,” explained Allouch.
The centralisation of digital resources is expected to improve higher education’s efficiency and reduce costs.
This means that, whereas systems, for instance students, faculty and learning management systems, operated in silos, policies, processes, procedures, platforms, systems, services and the digital tools across the industry have to be integrated.
“[According to best practices in Tunisia and internationally] all systems and services must be integrated and operate seamlessly,” said Allouch.
The project is expected to face some challenges, including funding, slow implementation that may be related to time-consuming public procurement processes, and cloud security.
The Al-Khawarizmi Computing Centre, or CCK, which is the public body that acts as an internet provider for higher education, will be responsible for security, as it already provides security for the national university network in coordination with the National Agency for Computing Security, according to Allouch.
“Capitalising on existing systems has undeniable advantages, but it creates enormous challenges for integration and interoperability,” Allouch added.
“The agile management of the project with steering involving the highest authority in the ministry, as well as all universities, while capitalising on the lessons learned from similar projects, including quality support projects, will help to address the challenges,” he said.
He said the initiative was a major project [that forms a part] of the implementation of the digital transformation strategy of the higher education sector in Tunisia.
As such, it was expected to contribute to the “realisation of the vision of a modern and digitalised higher education and scientific research sector”.