The new world economic order is characterized by a knowledge-based economic system, the rapid pace of technological changes, and the globalization of markets. These characteristics have made human capital the main determinant of the competiveness of companies and countries; they have opened new opportunities for countries with limited natural resources. In addition, they enable young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to launch their own projects.
Education has become strategic for the making of a prosperous and peaceful society.
To capitalize on the opportunities offered by the new world economic order, higher education has experienced major transformations in its mission, its organization, and its management. The most important of these transformations include:
- From being organized and managed by governments, to a system anchored in the competitive sector obeying the laws and rules of competition. Accreditation bodies and ranking of universities became an important criteria for attracting the best faculty and students and for the employability of the graduates.
- The internationalization of universities and their programs with the opening of campuses in different countries, the offer of joint programs, and the exchange of students and faculty.
- The practical orientation of the academic and research programs to make theoretical constructs more relevant to the students so that they are operational upon graduation.
Since its independence, Tunisia has undertaken unprecedented programs in the fields of education, healthcare, and women’s rights. However, for more than two decades prior to the 2011 revolution, no changes were introduced to the programs offered by universities so as to develop the new skills required by employers. The same holds true with regards to the pedagogic methods used which do not favor the development of an entrepreneurial spirit among graduates of the system. This has led to more than 250,000 jobless university graduates, and the degradation of the country’s economy. The nationwide economic and social tensions have greatly contributed to the 2011 “Jasmine revolution”.
Tunisia has all the assets to become a regional hub of excellence in education and a destination for African and other international students and researchers interested in Africa, and to attract major universities to develop their activities in the region. Tunisia’s assets include its strategic location in the heart of the Mediterranean as a link between Europe and Africa. Furthermore, its level of development, mild climate, touristic appeal, the openness of its society, and its cultural heritage constitute important assets. As stated by Professor Carl Brown of Princeton University, the uniqueness of Tunisia resides in the homogeneity of its population all of whom are at the same time Mediterraneans, Arabs, Suni-Muslims and Africans (MAMA).
It is evident that a high-performing educational system will be a determining factor for peace and for the successful transition of Tunisia to democracy. Beyond putting an end to the production of unemployed graduates, it contributes to the level of competitiveness of Tunisian companies which will stimulate the economy of the country. Becoming an educational destination for international students generates an inflow of hard currency and favors the integration of the national economy in the world economy. For indicative purposes, according to the statistics of the US International Institute of Education, for the year 2015, foreign students enrolled in US universities contributed more than $30 Billion to the US economy.
International students create a multicultural environment required for the preparation of the students for international careers. They also contribute to a better understanding between cultures that promotes peace between countries. Finally, international students develop friendly relationships with their Tunisian classmates which will favor the future development of business relationships.
To make this happen, with the support of the government, Tunisian universities have to innovate and to introduce programs that favor the development of the entrepreneurial spirit and that prepare their graduates to succeed in the global market. In this regard, South Mediterranean University (SMU), the first English speaking university in Tunisia, is a case in point. SMU has made entrepreneurship transversal in all components of its programs. It has adopted the use of interactive pedagogic methods for the development of the entrepreneurial spirit. The university has developed an innovation lab and organizes periodical “start-up competitions” among its students as well as a network of partnerships with prominent North-American and European Universities. All of this contributes to SMU’s drive for the organization of a global education. Despite its young age, SMU has attracted to its programs students from more than thirty nationalities. SMU’s ambition is to serve as a model for other institutions in the region; the Mediterranean School of Business at SMU was cited by the Financial Times in its Special Report on Africa as a model to be considered by other African countries.
It is a fact that university graduates develop high expectations in life. Being jobless for an extended period of time may make them lose hope and, in the face of despair, may be tempted to become terrorists. This constitutes the biggest threat for the security and the stability of the country. A sound educational system is the best way to fight terrorism as it opens bright professional perspectives to its graduates. It ensures to the country a steady economic growth and social prosperity, a pre-requisite for a successful and lasting transition to democracy.