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Beate Schindler Kovats: “University education in Tunisia should be more practise-oriented”

In Tunisia, unemployment among academics is twice as high as among young people without a university degree. University education is too theoretical and too many people attend the universities, says Beate Schindler-Kovats, the director of the DAAD Information centre in Tunis. She believes that only a reform of the education system and a change of mentality can bring about sustainable change.

Around 30 percent of academics in Tunisia are unemployed. Beate Schindler-Kovats names several reasons for this circumstance. And she has some suggestions for improvements, as she explains in this interview.

“The chance of being unemployed increases in proportion to the level of qualification”

Around 30 percent of Tunisian academics are unemployed. What are the reasons for this?

Beate Schindler-Kovats: There are several reasons. In Tunisia, there is both a surplus of academics and a lack of qualified experts with professional training. The Tunisian state guarantees a place at university for everyone, so that nearly all graduates of secondary education go on to study. Vocational training, on the other hand, is not considered to be attractive, or seen as an alternative. In Tunisia, the manufacturing industry in particular is in need of qualified employees and workers, while the demand for academics is limited. The chance of being unemployed increases in proportion with the level of qualification. Many young people are “stored away” at universities and many are matriculated as “pro forma” doctoral candidates, just in order to not be unemployed.

On the other hand, there is no sufficient connection between theory and practise. The education at Tunisian universities is not very practise-oriented and doesn’t meet the requirements of the employment market. That is why there are many “all-rounders” and only very few specialists. Furthermore, the local “culture of studying” (learning by rote, reproducing knowledge) is not helpful. Employers deplore the lack of candidates with the ability to think and act innovatively and with sufficient “soft skills”. Tunisian students and graduates don’t learn to take responsibility for themselves and show only little initiative.

How would you assess the quality of Tunisian university education?

Beate Schindler-Kovats: The quality of Tunisian university education has decreased in recent years, due to the pressure of the situation on the employment market. Many new university programmes have been created to place young people in Master and Doctorate programmes, just to get them off the streets. There is neither a system of accreditation nor any quality management. Moreover, there are massive strikes in the education sector, both by faculty and by students. These strikes are blocking the normal running of the programmes and this affects the level of education negatively.

My university programme in my home country ...

University education should be more practise-oriented

What are your suggestions for improving the situation?

Beate Schindler-Kovats: I would welcome a more practise-oriented education at Tunisian universities, along the lines of the Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany. And a closer connection between universities and industry would be helpful. In this area, the DAAD is already supporting successful pilot projects in cooperation with German partners in industry and the university sector. The culture of learning as well as the working attitudes and methods would have to change. There should be more promotion for the integration of internships in university education.

How can a stay abroad influence the options on the Tunisian employment market?

Beate Schindler-Kovats: Returning alumni are an additional value for Tunisian universities and for the Tunisian employment market. There are several previous examples of successful reintegration. Returnees are active as founders of new businesses. But in Tunisia there are still many hurdles and bureaucratic obstacles that prevent the acknowledgement of international degrees and achievements. 

What are the effects of the emigration of young, highly qualified people from Tunisia?

Beate Schindler-Kovats: “Brain drain” is an acute problem. There are estimates that around 3,000 university lecturers moved to the Gulf region in recent years, because they find better conditions and much better pay there.

Young people emigrate to find opportunities to study and work mainly in Europe and in Canada. Physicians, nursing staff and engineers are headhunted as expert employees. Those who don’t manage to emigrate legally take the refugee routes across the Mediterranean. Only a very small percentage of academics who studied or took advanced education in Germany return to Tunisia. The Tunisian government should create incentives for them to return.

A Germany-Alumna from Tunisia tells her story

My name is Chayma Berrhouma. I am 24 years old and I come from Tunisia. I am a telecommunications engineer and graduated from the Higher School of Communication of Tunis, SUP’COM. I conducted my master thesis at the renowned Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (Fraunhofer FOKUS) in Berlin.

During my stay in Germany, I had to go through a set of challenges, including the validation of my master thesis. Living in a country where I don’t speak the main language and don’t have any relatives taught me responsibility and self-reliance.

Furthermore, I had the chance to participate in the Career Fair “Trained in GermanY” in Tunis as an Alumniportal stall support member. It was a very successful event. It offered young Tunisians the chance to inform themselves about job opportunities both in Germany and Tunisia, and to discuss their professional visions with highly qualified Alumniportal engineers.

For me personally, this event was very beneficial. I had the opportunity to discuss different topics from the fields of “study and work in Germany” with very interesting people who created a strong carrier in Germany and came back to their home country to invest their knowledge and experience.

Interviews: Verena Striebinger

Unemployed academics in Tunisia

How can unemployed academics in Tunisia be equipped for the employment market? Specific projects and career fairs help to improve the situation.

Article “Equipped for the job market – unemployed academics in Tunisia”


May 2016

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Ahmeda younes
3 October 2017

حتا في ليبيا وخاصة في الجنوب - توجد نسبة العطالة العالية ولا يوجد اي محفزات للخريجين ولا حتى نشاطات

10 June 2016

Yeah . I have read the article and may you with this approach to the problem of employment in Tunisia. And what I find is commensurate with unemployment in Algeria.
The reasons in Algeria does not differ from those in Tunisia.

Junaid Naseer
27 May 2016

This is not just in Tunisia. The same is true in a lot of countries, (including right here in Europe and Germany).

You hear the same things again and again. The studies at the university are too academic and have no connection with the industry demands.

After completing my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering, I moved from Pakistan to Germany for my Masters in Telecommunications, thinking that the university education here would be more in-tune with the industry demands. Sorry to say, I experienced the same thing here after graduating. The companies are not interested in the courses that I studied at the university. They are interested, of course, in more practical skills, that I may or may not have. And if I have them, then the neither the Pakistani university nor the German university had anything to do with it. I had to prepare for that on my own (or if you are lucky and smart, you manage to pick some of those things up while on-job, that is if the employer is a bit understanding in the first place to give you the said job.)

And a good bunch of fellow foreign students were not so lucky (or insightful to see what was happening). They have German degrees in *technical* fields, but still nobody wants them, neither here nor back home.

And I thought, that it was probably me (and my kind -> foreign students with little industrial experience, who find it hard breaking into the industry, when in fact, later in life while working at different companies here, I realized that the level of incompetency is kind of same across the board.

And up till now, I have been only talking about the technical field. I haven't even started talking about people who spend 7 years at the university studying history or german or other *soft* subjects and then can't find a *fitting* job and have to become taxi-drivers because they have no skills ! Too many people in Europe too have degrees that nobody is interested in.

And the kids are not to blame for all too. They want a good career, status, an easy life. The university gives an illusion (or at least a vague promise) of all this at least. What has the industry done in Germany, in Europe, in Pakistan, in Tunisia or anywhere to train youth for the jobs that the industry says that it needs to fill? What has the industry done except getting their tax breaks and lobbying to soften worker rights, and introduce "leiharbeit" and "zeitarbeit" and complain all the while about a lack of talent/skill in the country?

Industry-*experts* expect college graduates to be innovative and problem solvers, when the industry itself has been incompetent at being innovative to solve their "skilled-candidate-deficiency problem".

(Note: I work at very nice company. This rant is not about my company, but about all the things I saw, during my whole job application experience and also what I observed happening to my colleagues)

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