Customized IIEP blended learning programme tackles youth unemployment in Tunisia

03 September 2021


Michael Sean Gallagher
Tunis El Manar University

In Tunisia, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research with support from the World Bank, has led the project Modernization of Higher Education in Support of Employability – known as PromESsE – since 2016. This wide-ranging reform strives to improve the employability of future graduates and overhaul the governance of higher education. IIEP-UNESCO has recently supported it with a tailored-made blended learning programme for Tunisian universities on internal quality assurance (IQA).

Improving employability prospects for young people is a major issue of concern in this North African country. Currently, the youth unemployment rate hovers just over 40%. For degree-holders, the unemployment rate is around 28%, according to the latest available statistics from 2019 (in French and Arabic). Employability is therefore very high on the Tunisian higher education policy agenda, together with quality improvement, both of which are key to societal development.

“Quality higher education is a driving force for the development of society.”
Olfa Benouda Sioud, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Tunisia during the launch of the blended learning programme.

Understanding the important role of quality and employability in higher education, IIEP was invited to support the government’s reform with a tailor-made blended learning programme on how to design and develop an effective IQA system in 13 Tunisian universities and the Instituts Supérieurs d'Études Technologiques (ISETs). Building on the Institute’s international research on the issue, IIEP adapted the programme to the Tunisian context with a grant from the UK Conflict, Security, and Stability Fund, managed by the World Bank.

Internal quality assurance refers to the set of intra-institutional practices – within universities and colleges – designed to oversee and improve the quality of higher education.

While IIEP has held previous IQA training courses online and in-person – in Southeast Asia, Near and Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Mongolia – this was the first time the course was adapted to fit into a context of national higher education reform to strengthen the employability of young people.

During three months, 76 participants – 34 of whom were women – from the 13 public universities and ISETs delved into details of how to design and implement a well-supported IQA system. The participants explored the links between IQA and governance, teaching and learning, and employability.

Adapted to the Tunisian context

The participants, organized in university teams, benchmarked their institution’s practices against the African Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance of Higher Education. They also had to develop a quality policy for teaching and learning, integrate employability concerns in programme reviews, and reflect on the structuring of quality committees, which are key institutional bodies for internal quality assurance established by law in 2008.

To fit the nuances of the Tunisian context, IIEP training experts adapted the course materials to align with the Ministry’s PromESsE project. Exercises were amended – and translated – and new sections on IQA and governance, e-Learning, and support structures for IQA were included in the course manuels.

"The group activities are just perfect for mastering the concepts and tools of IQA. Within our group, each activity has allowed us to initiate a set of reflections to be carried out at the level of the University of Sfax.”
Dr. Meriam Belkhir, Teacher and member of the Quality Support Programmes of the University of Sfax.

Zoning in on the link with employability

The training had a particular impact on the general understanding of how IQA affects employability. Prior to the training, only 12% of the participants said they had a strong grasp of this issue – now, 84% said they understood the link and could identify IQA tools and processes that enhance employability. These new skills will help the participants use tools such as graduate tracer studies, organize consultations with employers, and revise academic programmes.

"I would like to salute the enormous effort made by IIEP-UNESCO to ensure that this training course took into account the particular context in Tunisia while being aligned with the state of the art in the field of IQA and the most recent teachings at the international level."
Olfa Benouda Sioud, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research

100% intend to implement changes

All of the participants reported that this course will improve their professional practice and that they intend to implement changes in their university’s IQA. Additionally, 92% want to develop and improve their institution’s self-assessment procedure and 95% plan to develop or revise their institution’s quality policy.

"I can already see myself reacting differently in terms of IQA and using the skills acquired through the training in ongoing actions, such as in the preparation of the accreditation of the engineering programmes of our school"
Pr. Abdelmottaleb Ouederni, National School of Engineering of Gabès, University of Gabès.

At the end of the course, the participants created action plans to improve their institution's IQA system, drawing on all the options for improvement discussed during the training. In the plans, concrete solutions respond to the identified problems and the trainers provided final advice and adjustments – accompanying the teams from start to finish.

The next step for the participants is to have these plans validated internally in their institutions and to establish a calendar for their implementation.