Higher Education in Tunisia

The higher education system in Tunisia has experienced a rapid expansion and the number of students has more than tripled over the past 10 years from approximately 102,000 in 1995 to 365,000 in 2005.The gross enrollment rate at the tertiary level in 2007 was 31 percent, with gender parity index of GER of 1.5. The private university system in Tunisia, accounting for about one percent of students, remains small because the regulatory environment does not encourage foreign investment or the use of part-time teachers in private universities.

In Tunisia in 2005-2006, there were 178 public institutions of higher education among which there were 13 universities, 24 higher institutes of technological studies and six higher institutes of teachers' training. The Higher Education Ministry (HEM) supervises 155 institutions and 23 are under the co-supervision of the HEM and other ministries. In addition HEM recognizes 20 university-level private institutions. The public university system is virtually free and student loans are not available for students enrolled in a private university, making it difficult for private universities to attract students who cannot afford to pay the fees.

During the last decade, in addition to creating seven new universities, the Government of Tunisia (GOT) has made progress in i)in improving the internal efficiency of programs and pass rates in applied science programs and selected short-term programs such as at the higher institutes of technology (Instituts supérieurs des études technologiques) (ZSETS) (ii)introducing shorter term professional programs with more relevance; and(iii)granting greater autonomy to universities to give them the flexibility to respond to the changing environment and adapt academic programs to the needs of the economy.

Access to post secondary education is guaranteed to all students holding the Diploma zdu Baccalaureat. The admission process is centrally controlled through the national university orientation system. Although this centralized system has been criticized for its rigidity as it leaves students unsatisfied by the disciplines they have been placed in. The pass rate of the Baccalaureate is not very high in Tunisia. On average 60 percent of students fail the baccalaureate each year. Recently since 2005-06, the government has been trying to implement reform that is based on the European three-tier model of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.This reform is known as LCD :licence (three years) master's (two-years), doctorate(five years). The new academic credit hour system is meant to give students greater flexibility in designing their study tracks, while allowing them to earn and transfer credits between institutions both domestically and internationally.

At the university level the first cycle of studies in the academic stream is of two years, which leads to the award of Diploma d'Etudes Universitaires du Premier Cycle. This first degree is regarded as a preparatory one. Then in most other fields, the second cycle leads to the award of Maitrise, which is considered the first degree in Tunisian university system. Later the Diplome d'Etudes Approfondies (DEA) is awarded to Maitrise holders after a further two-year study and the preparation and defense of a thesis. DEA is also a prerequisite for entry into a doctoral program.

Despite this progress, however, numerous challenges remain, as student enrollments in public universities are projected to increase by about 6.6 percent annually, reaching approximately 470,000 (all categories) in 2010, while at the same time, the quality and relevance of education are in need of updating. At 2 percent of GDP, public spending on higher education is already higher than in most countries in the world. Unemployment among university graduates is increasing and the employability of graduates in modern, export-oriented sectors is weak. Mechanisms and incentives to promote quality at the university level are for the most part inadequate and universities cannot fully exercise the autonomy that will help them to better respond to the changes in the labor markets and requirements of a global economy. In sum, due to the projected increase in enrollment, the GOT is faced with a challenge of meeting public demand for higher education in an equitable way, and improving quality in a cost-efficient manner, while responding to existing and new labor market needs.