In the post-revolution period, Tunisian universities have started an intense competition to sign cooperation agreements with international universities, a sign of their interest in improving.
The University of Tunis, one of the country’s largest universities, has already signed 114 agreements in the field of education and scientific research in addition to 252 agreements for the joint supervision of academic theses with foreign universities. The University of Manouba has signed around 28 agreements with foreign institutions; also Al-Manar University signed 15 agreements with French and Italian universities, according to university websites. The cooperation agreements with Arab universities are still limited.
“Today we are dealing on the basis of universal knowledge, where we should be able to exchange scientific knowledge and experiences,” Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the University of Arts and Humanities, in Manouba, said. He explained that the partnership agreements with international universities enable professors and students to exchange experiences and open new horizons in research in various disciplines, as well as developing knowledge. “The exchange of scientific research and knowledge is a kind of investment that could later support the country social and economic development,” he said.
Despite the relatively large number of international cooperation agreements between Tunisian universities and their counterparts at the Western ones, there are a lot of challenges that will prevent the full use of the agreements.
“The real difficulties lie in the adopted methodology of some Tunisian universities,” says Dr. Jean Luigi, professor of Italian literature at the University of April 9. “Most of them adopt the indoctrination style, which contradicts with teaching methods at Western universities and killed the critical spirit we needed for the development of academic research.”
Moreover, the cultural contrast between Tunisian universities and their Western counterparts is considered a significant challenge. Dr. Luigi was forced several times to change some critical topics that violate Tunisian social traditions such as presenting a film showing woman’s body naked or discussing homosexuality. “These topics are socially unacceptable, although they are taught in European countries within the framework of scientific research.”
Najat Araara, a researcher in sociology believes that in the framework of a traditional society there are red lines that cannot be crossed. “There was a research subject in our partnership with France on digital identity, personally I could not work on this subject, which is one of
the important topics in sociology, due to security and political considerations,” said Araara. The former regime prevented such research fearing it might compromise the government’s own information-technology systems. She noted that the importance of research lies in its connection to its society. But in Tunisia, she said, government rules and some social moral standards often hinder scientific research.
On the other hand, the dean of the University of Arts and Humanities in Manouba stressed the importance of academic autonomy. “The most important step to achieve the requested independence,” Habib Kazdaghli said, “is getting the financial independence and funding. The developed countries have enough freedom to obtain funding that assists them in producing high-quality knowledge and best forms. “
Before the revolution, Tunisians suffered from a high rate of unemployment among young people with university diplomas. Unemployment rose after the revolution, hitting almost 20 percent at the end of last year according to a World Bank report.
The Tunisian government budget for the last year was 22.935 billion dinars ($15.817 billion) with 6 percent of it going to higher education and research according to the Tunisia state news agency.