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AlmaLaurea reaches Tunisia

26 March 2012

It is called Islah (“reform” in Arabic) and it is an international project for the establishment of a database containing the graduates’ CV’s on the basis of the one already implemented by AlmaLaurea. Among the partners of this project – coordinated by AlmaLaurea and currently being reviewed by the European Union – is also Tunisia which, alongside Morocco and France, will for the first time be part of such a project with 4 participating universities. “This type of database is lacking in our country” explained Oussama Benabdelkarim, Director of Bureau de statistique et de la pianification at the Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur in Tunisia. At the Conference “After the higher education degree: paths of study and work-based learning in Italy and in the international context” Benabdelkarim talked about his country – which was the tinder for the “Arab Spring” – and about the impact that the revolution and democratization of Tunisia had on the governance of the higher education system. In a period of reform for the entire university system, “the AlmaLaurea know-how is very important – he said – and the Tunisian universities can certainly draw benefit from the existing database of approximately 1,5 million CV’s and, if the project yields the expected results, it can be extended to the entire university system of our country”.

The following is the full text of the interview. Watch an excerpt from the video interview.

AlmaLaurea and your Ministry recently developed a project for the establishment of a graduates’ database capable of providing a reliable picture of the characteristics and the performance of the Tunisian higher education system. If this project is approved by the funding agencies, what will be its impact on the university governance system?
“The Islah project - coordinated by AlmaLaurea with Tunisia as one of the partners – is a Tempus project funded by the European Union. It aims at extending the work done by AlmaLaurea in Italy with the involvement of a French partner, of the Moroccan universities which are already working in the framework of a pre-existing project (GrInsA) and, for the first time, of Tunisia as a partner. Tunisia will participate in the project with four universities: the University of Monastir in the centre of the country, the University of Gabès in the South, and two Universities in the innermost area of the country: Gafsa and Jendouba. This project will thus allow us to have a reliable database and establish a network with the Ministry of Vocational Training and Labour and its National Observatory on Work and Professions. Therefore, on the one hand there will be a connection with what we are already doing, something similar to generational surveys and, in parallel with this, we will have a reliable database of the students who complete higher education”.

Do you think that extending the project to the entire university system in your country would be desirable based on the AlmaLaurea model that was discussed today?
“This type of database is missing in our country and the AlmaLaurea know-how is very important: first of all, we, the Tunisian universities, will draw benefit from this model and then, if the project yields the expected results, it can be extended to the whole university system of our country. When I talk about universities, I am referring to the intermediary role of the University Observatories which will play a key role in this process. Furthermore, if the results of the project are interesting – and I think they will be – we may look for additional funds to extend it through the Tempus project, for example from the World Bank or the European Union".

Tunisia has experienced profound changes. In the Mediterranean area your country is an extremely interesting background against which to measure the impact of this transformation on higher education and on the professional openings. What are so far the major effects of the “Arab Spring” on the life of the students and on higher education?
“Tunisia was the first country to experience the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, a revolution which began from civil uprisings and protests of students and job-seekers. The revolution has brought about a number of changes in higher education. The transition government – that is the first government following the revolution and the Minister in office – developed the idea of the University States-General. The idea was: let us revise the whole system keeping the good things from the past but improving them for the future. Then, we consider the other countries’ experience, we listen to the University Chancellors, the students, the trade unions in order to be able to renew our system within one and a half years. Thinking of the future, this will allow us to give more freedom to the universities, revamp the degree courses, with special reference to those that offer high employment chances, and open the way to the possibility of getting a degree in two universities, one in our country and one abroad”.

One of the major issues relating to youth unemployment is the mismatch between the skills required by the companies and university training: from this point of view, how does the situation look like in Tunisia? Have the universities launched any reform processes with a view to being more labour-market oriented?
“The Ministry of higher education and Scientific Research has left this issue in the hands of the States-General. In other words, we have started a broad consultation process on higher education: we will be working at this issue for a period of approximately 15 months. General consultation has also started within other Ministries, for example the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, with a view to reforming the system. Furthermore, by implementing a series of projects we are promoting partnerships and more labour-market-oriented higher education teaching. We are working towards vocational training and I believe that the contribution of all foreign partners will be increasingly important”.

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