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Higher Education

Rapid growth in the student population of Tunisia's higher education system in the decades since independence has posed a challenge to educators and administrators interested in developing a high-quality, well-integrated system of public institutions to satisfy the demands of the labor market and the interests of students. Over a 25-year period student enrollments in the higher education system grew more than ten-fold, jumping from an enrollment of 10,350 in the 1970-1971 academic year to an enrollment of 112,630 in the 1995-1996 academic year. The average annual growth rate in higher education over these years ranged from 6.6 percent to 18.1 percent, with the greatest leap occurring at the start of the 25-year run. Tunisia's higher education system consequently was due for widespread reforms and restructuring by the 1990s, reforms which were supported in the latter part of the decade in large measure by a World Bank loan. Explaining the rationale behind Bank funding of this "Higher Education Reform Project" in Tunisia, one Bank analyst wrote in 1997:

Higher Education in Tunisia, an overwhelmingly state-owned, state-operated and state-funded sector, is currently relatively well organized, well staffed and oriented towards quality. However, the combined effect of demographic pressure, increased internal efficiency at pre-university level, and automatic access for all secondary education graduates to higher education will result in the doubling of enrollments within the next 10 years; such an expansion will create a considerable strain under current financial, managerial and pedagogical conditions.

Consequently, the Bank has supported Tunisian efforts to increase the amount and quality of higher education, improve management and heighten the flexibility of the higher education sector, and make public higher education more financially sustainable. The Higher Education Reform Project was estimated to cost about US$150 million, of which US$80 million was anticipated to come as a World Bank loan. Various partner donors in the international community (e.g., the EU and bilateral donors) have supplemented the funding provided by the World Bank to facilitate the desired reforms in Tunisia's higher education system.

Public & Private: Tunisia has seven publicly funded universities, encompassing a total of 90 higher-education establishments in all: Université Ezzitouna (the university for Islamic studies), Université de Tunis, Université de Tunis El Manar, Université 7 novembre àCarthage, Université de La Manouba, Université du Centre, and Université du Sud à Sfax. The total enrollment in academic year 2000-2001 was 207,388, with the Université du Centre having the greatest number of students (41,149) and the Université Ezzitouna having the smallest number (888). In addition, six Instituts Supérieurs de Formation des Maîtres (ISFM), which are training institutes for primary-level teachers, matriculated 1,538 students, and eleven Instituts Supérieurs des Etudes Technologique (ISET) enrolled 15,138 in 2000-2001.

At the close of the 1999-2000 academic year 21,442 diplomas were awarded to students graduating from the first and second cycles of tertiary education. The average success rate for the different cycles of higher education studies that year was 64 percent. Of the 207,388 students enrolled in the three cycles of higher education in the public universities and institutes in 2000-2001, almost 52 percent (107,673) were women approximately 48 percent (99,715) were men, a notable achievement for women, considering past discrepancies between male and female school enrollment and completion rates, and a tribute to the efforts of the Tunisian government to promote gender equity in education.

University education in Tunisia is provided virtually free of charge, and the seven public universities and two sets of public institutes charge no tuition but only a registration fee. Students at the universities generally live the first two years of their studies in dormitories, after which they are free to rent apartments. Fees for student room and board are charged based on family income level, with scholarships provided by the National Offices of Students (l'Offices des Oeuvres Universitaires—one in the North, one in the Center, one in the South) for students who cannot afford to cover these costs on their own. Students unable to pass the bacc but otherwise qualified for higher-level studies may choose to attend private universities and postsecondary schools such as the Free University of Tunis, provided they have the financial means to cover the costs of private schooling.

Admission Procedures: Admission to public universities in Tunisia is relatively automatic once students have passed the bacc. At the close of their secondary studies, students list their preferences of the schools and areas of study they wish to pursue at the tertiary level; several weeks after passing the bacc, graduates learn which university or institute has accepted them. For students who fail the bacc but can afford to study privately, admissions procedures vary depending on the school or institute of higher education to which they apply.

Administration: The Ministry of Higher Education administers Tunisia's publicly funded postsecondary education system through an elaborate array of government bureaus and agencies. Besides a ministerial oversight committee (comité supérieur du ministère) and a board of directors (conseil de direction), the Ministry includes a cabinet, administrative and financial inspections department, common services, and specific services. The cabinet is further composed of seven bureaus and a group of consultative committees, while each of the services contains several departments.

Teaching Styles & Techniques: The style of teaching in Tunisia traditionally has emphasized rote learning of a set curriculum over the development of creative thinking, critical reasoning, and problem solving skills, a problematic situation noted as early as 1982 (see Jones 42). Tunisian education officials and professionals recognized in the 1990s that this style of education needed to be changed since many Tunisian students could not apply their classroom learning to real world situations outside of school. University courses typically have been delivered in a lecture format, but there is increasing recognition of the value of interspersing on-the-job training, apprenticeships, research, and other forms of practical assignments with academic coursework so that students are given the benefit of learning to apply the concepts they are taught in classrooms before they graduate.

Professional Education: As noted above, the public university system contains two sets of institutes, ISET and ISFM, whose mission is to prepare professionals in the areas of engineering, technology, and teaching. ISFM graduates are qualified to teach primary education. Higher levels of education require diplomas conferred by other university programs preparing teachers and faculty in specific areas of instruction and expertise. In addition, training in law and in medicine is provided through various faculties of the public university system located around the country. The Ministry of Professional Training and Employment, created March 3, 1990, has the responsibility of overseeing the training programs that prepare skilled and highly skilled workers, technicians, and master technicians in Tunisia.

Research Centers & Institutes: With the reorganization of Tunisian higher education in the 1990s came the establishment of a large number of publicly funded research centers and institutes throughout the country. Additional plans for research centers include attaching them to university "poles" in the various geographical regions of Tunisia so that each area of the country has its own university center replete with research facilities. Nine research centers exist in Tunisia for the sciences and technology in the new millennium, located in Tunis, Sfax, Salambo, and Hammam Lif. Ten research centers exist for humanities and the social sciences, all in Tunis except for one located in Kairouan, including a national institute dedicated to preserving Tunisia's cultural heritage and archaeological artifacts. Five additional research centers for the agricultural sciences are located in Ariana, Sfax, Medénine, and Tunis.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceTunisia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education