Erasmus+: An important link for the modernisation of university education in Tunisia 

February 10, 2017
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Learn new things, discover a new culture and meet interesting people…that’s what several young Tunisians had the opportunity to do when they spent six months or a year in a European University with the Erasmus+ exchange programme. They made the exchange an original and memorable experience. They’re now back in their own country where they’re putting into practice what they learned during their European experience. A journalist from the EU Neighbours South programme met with several of the young people who went abroad with the programme and shares their stories.

The Erasmus+ adventure

Tunis – Mohamed El-Arbi Bassalah, a PhD student in physics and researcher at the El-Manar Faculty of Sciences, has lived the Erasmus+ experience. He did a 12-month placement in Mallorca, Spain. “I was able to adjust to my new environment and make a place I didn’t know my home where I felt at ease. Spain was a real discovery for me. From an academic point of view, I was stimulated by the very high educational level.” Mohamed learned how to design computer simulations to back up the results of his experiments in Tunisia. He explained that these “little things”, which are often underestimated, make a difference and enable people to take on positions of responsibility.

“Erasmus+ was a real turning point in my life!,” he said. “The placement in the research laboratory gave me the opportunity to meet students from all backgrounds, to meet interesting researchers and to perfect my digital simulation skills.” The physicist explained that the experience had also helped him improve his English language skills and learn many new things about his field of research. It was an unforgettable experience both from a professional and from a personal point of view.

For his part, Abdelmonoem Kouka went to Germany for his Masters in computer innovation after a very in-depth interview. Only 30 students were selected from the 1000 applicants. “I arrived at the Fraunhofer Institute with no preconceived ideas and with very little knowledge of the culture or history of the country. Although the Erasmus Mundus experience (the predecessor of Erasmus+) was short, just one and a half months (July-August 2013), it was very valuable to me. It opened my mind and helped forge my personality. In addition, the training provided me with an undeniable benefit. The courses were taught in German only. This required different listening and writing skills than French, and very intense work. The economic ‘business model’ internship further confirmed my choice to specialise with a Masters. The business model helps you understand the principles of operation and organisational rules of companies. The benefit is twofold. You learn to identify the intentions and objectives of a company and to define its strategy and the measures it implements to achieve its goals. It also helps to position companies in their current and future competitive framework,” explained Abdelmonem. He added that on his return to Tunisia, he immediately started up “TAC-TIC”, a company specialised in IT and telecommunications in the El Ghazala technology hub in Tunis.  He acknowledges that his time in Germany enabled him to improve his knowledge and expand his activity to Africa and Europe, where he is in demand to provide training in Côte d’Ivoire, France and Germany. The Erasmus+ year was also an opportunity to share a passion with other students during many outings and hikes. Abdelmonoem is very enthusiastic. “I have just one piece of advice for young people who hesitate about going: You should go for it. You just have to go! Erasmus+ opens up many opportunities, both from a professional standpoint and for self-discovery, growth and openness in a new environment.” 

Erasmus+ in Hungary: Wissal’s semester

Wissal Ben Abbes, a second-year Masters student in linguistics, speaks fondly of her Erasmus+ in Szeged, Hungary. The adventure had a great impact on her which she isn’t about to forget. “My university experience at the Faculty of Letters of Manouba encouraged me to explore other cultures. It wasn’t easy to choose my Erasmus+ destination country or city. Everyone recommended that I go to an English-speaking country, but, in the end, I chose to do my Erasmus in Hungary.” She told us that her training internship at the University of Szeged brought her into contact with Hungarian culture, which is very different from her own, and that she came to appreciate it over time. “I met people and became friends with them in spite of the language barrier, although Hungarians speak English well. I was also able to do a number of different sports and go on organised hikes. You never get bored in Szeged because there’s always lots to do, places to visit and new places to discover. You can go to concerts, the opera, the ballet and plays all year long…Those six months really changed my outlook on my studies and my career plan. It also helped me mature, improve my language skills, progress in my research and become more open-minded and curious.

The goal of the Erasmus+ programme is to develop and modernise the higher education system in Tunisia thanks to this kind of individual experience. The programme provides study grants to university students and staff to take part in partnership projects between Tunisian and European universities. According to Dr Mohamed Salah Harzallah, Coordinator of the National Erasmus+ Office in Tunisia, “programme access is based on competition between partner universities that submit a project following publication of an annual call for proposals. We’re convinced that Erasmus+ has an essential role to play in Tunisia’s development by enabling thousands of young Tunisians to aspire to a better future. Given that the best defence against unemployment is training, an experience outside the country and knowledge of foreign languages are valuable assets.”

Students receive Erasmus+ grants for three to twelve months. Academic staff receive mobility support for between five days and two months.

In 2015 and 2016, 9 386 grants were provided to students and teachers from southern Mediterranean countries, who came to study, receive training or teach in Europe. They included 1 035 Tunisians. The programme also funded 3 688 Europeans in the opposite direction. The European Union hopes to finance the mobility needs of at least 3,000 Tunisians over the period 2015-2020

Text by Kamel Bouaouina

Photos by Rached Berrazagua

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Programme guide