Friday, August 10, 2012

DAAD: Interview with Prof. Jelel Ezzine, DG, International Cooperation Directorate General, Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research

Prof Ezzine, How is the situation of the Tunisian higher education sector today?

Presently, we face problems similar to many European countries. For the last five years or so we have been re-structuring our Higher Education System according to the Bologna guidelines. This process continues to demand considerable efforts, but we are determined to successfully converge to Europe’s best practices. Simultaneously, we have been working hard to improve the quality of our graduates in general, in particular human sciences degrees holders, especially after the 14th of January. In fact, and due regards our post revolution context, we are in greater need for qualified graduates in all fields, especially media, politics and educational sciences to better respond to the aspiration of our society and empower our citizens to become politically mature and facilitate the emergence of a powerful civil society. Consequently, I highly welcome the intensified joint cooperation efforts with Germany in general and DAAD in particular to foster exchanges in fields of common interest such as political and educational sciences and related ones.

What has changed in international cooperation since the revolution?

Since the Revolution, cooperation interests have increased considerably. Tunisia is the launching pad of the Arab Spring, giving it a unique post-revolution leadership position in the region. Old and new partners are engaging with Tunisia to foster and enhance the blossoming Tunisian Knowledge Society. It goes without saying, especially due regards Tunisia’s meager natural resources endowment, that human gray matter is Tunisia’s best present asset and most valuable future competitive advantage.

How can DAAD support you in this situation?

Germany is an important partner for us, and our cooperation goes back to 1982. In fact, our cooperation resulted in over 30 cooperation agreements between our respective universities and institutions. Moreover, we have about 3000 Tunisians studying in German universities, mainly in Engineering Sciences and related fields. Recently, we have successfully extended our cooperation to research and innovation.

This long and thriving cooperation has recently been consolidated due to the post-revolution Tunisian context and challenges. Indeed, our country is undergoing a great transition and will remain so for the coming years, and is in much need to learn from successful experiences. In this regard, Germany is among the few countries that not only succeeded the double challenge of transformation and integration, but also of decentralization making of it today the economic engine and innovator of Europe. Of course, this can’t be achieved without a dynamic and efficient National Innovation System whose main actors are Universities, Industry and the Government.

Where can DAAD cooperation give stimulus for the Tunisian higher education sector?

As I mentioned earlier, we can learn quite a bit from the German higher education sector. For instance, the governance structure and related management processes in universities. In fact, our universities are called to become more autonomous, to foster innovation, and be the advocate of democracy. As a matter of fact, our universities responded positively to our revolution, and elected for the first time in their history their presidents!

Which DAAD program do you like best?

As in any cooperation, or better “partnership,” partners have to converge to a mutually beneficial shared vision that transcends their fields of specialization, and tries to be part of a solution to a societal challenge.  For instance, a global societal challenge is cheap access to sustainable energy. A very promising field in this context is solar energy, especially Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). Moreover, Tunisia is a partner country in the German led DESERTEC project. This mega project intends to supply Europe with solar power generated in North Africa. The successful implementation of such a project needs scientists, engineers, project managers and related specialists. DAAD, along with other German partners can play a key role in launching such structural high tech projects. For instance, such ideas could be the trigger for developing a green industry in Tunisia, in particular in the southern part of the country, thus helping the people of Tunisia and the Euro-Med region reduce their Ecological Footprint, and in doing so making of our Planet a better place to live.