In March, when most UNC Charlotte faculty and students were on spring break, College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) dean, Fatma Mili, was in North Africa serving as co-chair of Noor 2019, a conference focused on higher education during a time of dramatic transition in her home country, Tunisia.
Since its 2011 revolution, Tunisia has struggled to rebound. Its Higher Education and Research system would like to emerge as a stabilizing agent of change, but its own structural challenges need to also be addressed. With a depleted economy, there are fewer jobs for recent college graduates, which diminishes the motivation of students and faculty alike. As such, students are leaving the country to study abroad or abandoning education altogether. Also suffering as the economy recovers is the number of funded research projects being conducted, which limits the number of students and faculty who can participate, but also impedes the kind of innovation that can resuscitate a fledgling economy. In short, Tunisian industry and education are trapped in a shared cycle that must be broken.
“The goal of the Noor Higher Education Conference is to bring together stakeholders (students, recent graduates, employers, institutional managers, project managers, ministerial officials, civil society agents, academic staff) involved in higher education, to discuss and formulate expectations and outline concrete and innovative solutions,” Mili says.
As an agent of change, Tunisia’s Higher Education and Research System is in position to drive innovation and renewal by stimulating entrepreneurship, which will jumpstart the country’s economic development, expectations and opportunities.
Beyond industry and the economy, a strong system of higher education can spur social change, civil awareness and ethics by graduating educated, enlightened future leaders.
While each country and system brings unique context and circumstance to the question of where education belongs in directing and determining the future, Mili is always surprised by the universality of concerns and wishes.
“One of the findings elicited this year was the level of divergence between students' aspirations as expressed by them and their aspirations as seen by faculty and employers,” Mili says. “Whereas students expressed the desire to make a difference, to take risks and contribute to the development of their country, employers expected that the main aspiration of the students would be around stability and good salary.”
With a population of more than 250,000 students and 23,000 faculty to satisfy, Mili is impressed by the solutions and reforms embraced by what is a very young Tunisian system. “In the last two years,” she says, “funding for research increased by 51% with the added exclusive focus on research projects that add value and address current
societal and environmental problems. They also set up a network of conflict resolution centers to develop students' capacity as leaders.”
Noor 2019 promised to continue the momentum from the 2017 edition and delivered with ambitious goals for the future of a Tunisia in transition.
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