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Unemployment haunts Tunisia college graduates

By Housa Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis — 30/07/10

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Tunisian college graduates are prepared for the demands of their discipline, but face great challenges in finding a job in their own field.

"Most of the institute graduates are still unemployed or have started working in fields not related to their discipline," said Hayet Et Beji, a graduate of Tunisia's institute for heritage preservation. "What made the higher education ministry abandon the discipline is that it has no feasible way of integrating its graduates into the job market."

Et Beji, like many students, finished college only to find a job market ravaged by the global economic crisis. The competition for jobs is so intense, she said, that applicants for heritage preservation jobs vie with graduates from other fields.

"In addition to the limited job opportunities in the field of heritage preservation, the problem is that the Ministry of Culture doesn’t hire institute graduates, who face competition from history graduates," she added. "Moreover, the appointment of specialists in heritage is usually open to many other disciplines, which limits the opportunities for the original graduates of this discipline."

Heritage preservation specialists will have a difficult time on their own, she said, since "private initiative in the field of heritage preservation is doomed from the very beginning, since private museums don't have a high turnout".

Students in Tunis have limited academic choices. They submit university applications to the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Scientific Research after successfully passing the baccalaureate, and specify 10 fields that they would like to join. However, the ministry decides which field they will be placed in based on their marks.

Tunisia's 759 university divisions prioritise disciplines with high employment rates. But even those disciplines lack adequate jobs for college graduates.

"I didn't find any place to work in my discipline, even just for training," said engineering and design specialist Rim Echabi, who graduated in 2005. "So I ignored that and went, like most young people do, to [work at] the call centres."

"Most of the plants in Tunisia, like furniture factories for example, don't hire engineers for designing innovative models; rather, they just settle for looking for models on the internet and imitating them," she said. "And in Tunisia, we don't own factories that design their own products. They usually import everything, including even the ideas, and then re-implement them without thinking about creating new design and finding specialists."

The ministry has taken several steps to help students pursue their career from the university to the job market. It has created a national centre for student orientation for 2010's successful baccalaureate candidates and their parents. The center, which answers questions about university orientation, operates from July 15th to August 15th at the Tunis Science City headquarters.

The ministry has also organised events to teach new students about the job market, higher education institutions, the characteristics of academic divisions and the contents of their programs, study skills, and university services.

Representatives from universities, institutions of higher education, university service offices, the Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment, parallel higher education sections, private high education institutions, and guides in media, orientation and counseling have all participated in the events.

University graduate Azer Al Okbi said that he was skeptical about the initiatives.

"In spite of the exerted and continuous efforts to expand the fields of scientific disciplines to provide more job opportunities for university graduates, and to provide the necessary cadres in different disciplines – especially as Tunisia is witnessing several changes on the level of major projects – we wonder about the fate of some university graduates, especially in the newly-created disciplines, and about the fate of those who couldn't get jobs in their scientific disciplines," Okbi said.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    ibrahim 2010-11-13

    First of all, I want to swear before God that what I am going to say is true. I am the father of the Tunisian family. I have spent my life helping my children excel in their studies. Recently, my eldest daughter was accepted for a job in her field at a foreign company in Tunis. She did a Telephone interview in English that last 30 minutes with English speakers and passed. 15 days later, they informed her that she was denied by order of the Tunisian government because she wore a headscarf. This factor will of course influence the quality of the students, their health, the economy and, perhaps, the general security and mood of the country.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Om Nidhal 2010-9-29

    The unemployment rate was high even before the financial crisis, and it is ever more affecting young graduates with higher educations. We always talk about decisions that are adopted to inject graduates into the labour market, but nothing changes since the number of graduates increases from year to year. (An average of 40,000 graduates finish their higher education and enter the labour market.) Moreover, it must be said that the education system does not provide for the qualification the production system requires, which translated into an access of applicants for job offers.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2010-8-15

    To Abou Fahd- I am sorry, but you appear to be misinformed about Tunisia’s president. Firstly, he has sold roughly half of the national companies working in oil and gas to private European companies. So, whether or not I care about foreigners running the national businesses, they certainly are. Secondly, the Trabelsis and Ben Alis have greatly benefited from the privatisation of many state business and properties. What once belonged to the Tunisians now belongs to the Trabelsis and Ben Alis. Thirdly, over $12 billion have disappeared directly due to the president’s family. However, the problem is far more complex than this. If you take a look at Tunisia’s police force, Tunisia has 15-20 times the number of policemen per capita that any Western country has, yet Tunisian police are paid very little. This works to the benefit of the political elite because when given the opportunity to do that which is right versus that which they are ordered and will give them more of an opportunity to steal, the police almost always choose the second option. The same is true for the entire bureaucratic structure of the country. These are the networks about which I spoke before. The position of functionary or politician may not always pay well, but by becoming an accomplice to the system you are afforded the opportunity to steal and oppress. Ben Ali may not be aware of the exact details of every corrupt action, but the pyramid structure that he set up so he could pillage the country is certainly responsible for it.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    abou fahd 2010-8-11

    We always try and blame somebody else when things go wrong,yes there is still corruption and back hand in tunisia if you want a job done .I do not agree with essid in concern the president or his family in acquiring certain businesses to safeguard the legitimacy of the concern but these people can not run the said business single handedly so it does not make sense to attack these people as they have to pay taxes or would you prefer a foreigner running it.yes the cost of living is gone up but also are the salaries and minimum wage, pensions if you paid stamps or not, as well as the activities of the wellfare of tunisian organisations lnvolved in the distribution of money and parcels to those less well off.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2010-8-10

    To Pablo: There is a large difference between Tunisia’s unemployment rate and, for example, the Netherlands. So, yes unemployment is a global problem, but its severity is an indicator of specific conditions within a country. Simply put, unemployment in Tunisia is due, among other factors, to corruption, lack of transparency and cronyism. And, President Ben Ali, his family and his cohort are most definitely involved in these factors. The patronage networks are set in place and the beneficiaries do not want to see any changes except more money in their pockets. This is why it is impossible for young people to access a job market when the politicians and functionaries are so adamantly wrenching every last pence from every last business that could otherwise go to creating new jobs. As such, your condemnation of young people is insulting. It is not laziness when you see that the amount of effort it would require to break into these patronage and the significant odds against you doing so successfully and it makes you think it is not worth it. And, your use of “noble trades” as evidence is anecdotal. If you want proof, ask the carpenters and butchers you cite above if they are satisfied with the political system. Ask them how many people they have to bribe to keep their businesses open. Ask them if they have experienced the crisis. I assure you that their payouts to corrupt functionaries are high, that many of them are dissatisfied with the political system, and that their sales are down with the crisis. (Look on this website about soaring food prices in Tunisia.)


  6. Anonymous thumb

    Makasa 2010-8-7

    Only the democraty can solve this problem


  7. Anonymous thumb

    Pablo 2010-8-6

    The global crisis affects all sectors of all countries. Unemployment is not specific to Tunisia, but a global problem. We need to stop criticising and work. Today’s young people only want to consume and spend, but they forget that their parents worked hard to offer them the ability to study. Ask the opinion of those who were deprived of this ability but learned noble trades – carpenters, butchers and so on. They are living well and are not experiencing the crisis. Thank God that Tunisia, with the foresight of its president, is a modern country with educated young people. Long live Tunisia!


  8. Anonymous thumb

    abou fahd 2010-8-6

    A new platform for expressing your views for all tunisians inside and outside the country is now afoot thanks to the internet that makes this possible,new plans to get the community living abroad have a bigger say in what goes on in tunisia is also about to be born.what remains is having the senior citizens living abroad run the consulats and some embassies this will save millions of dollars to the treasury and will give spin doctors and think tank who are not currently employed to get recognised by the government ,i am sure their contribution in solving unemployment will be vast as these people will not be looking to fill their own pockets but to give unbiazed advice on the majority of pitfalls or future improvement to what is already there.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2010-8-6

    To Khaled- First of all, you misunderstood the comment that Anonymous wrote. It should be rather obvious that he was being sarcastic. As for the rest of your comment, have you ever been to Tunisia? Do you know anyone in Tunisia? By the looks of your comment, it would appear that you know nothing of Tunisia. I am half Tunisian. I have spent a lot of time in Tunisia. I even tried on three occasions to open a business in Tunisia so that my cousin could manage it for me. Let me assure you, the system does not bend over backwards to accommodate you. If you do not believe me, you can check the multitude of other comments where people complain of the corruption at all levels of the government. My personal experience was that to register my business I needed to bribe the officials, to have the business inspected by the authorities I needed to bribe someone, and to keep the business open I had to continue to bribe these officials and authorities. Someone was certainly bent over! Over the span of these three attempts, I have seen no improvement and no changes. Everyone knows that no matter what laws the president’s puppet Parliament may adopt, the president’s patronage networks take precedence over any legislation. Moreover, all real indicators show that Tunisia did not escape the crisis. However, the global crisis only exacerbated our already well-developed crisis. The unemployment rate (15%) from 2007 shows how bad off we were.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    شاب تونسي 2010-8-4

    In reality, unemployment rates have significantly increased in Tunisia among young people. However, it has reached these levels on the International Youth Year 2010 which Tunisia boasts to present at a time when unemployment haunts the minds of Tunisian young people. So for how long will deceit of Tunisian public opinion continue with gains for youth? 54% of youth are prey to confusion and fear of waiting for a very long time. So for how long will this unemployment haunt our brilliant youth let alone average students???


  11. Anonymous thumb

    khaled 2010-8-4

    i do not agree with anonymous that the president of tunisia single handedly avorted the financial crisis in tunisia but what is true is a tunisian who has knowledge about the world finances has written about the problem and the president and advisors took the alert seriously and dealt with the catastrophy before it happened.That is one problem solved but why the tunisians always complain about their life when it is as sweet as sweet can be with all the plans put in place by the president if you are seriously thinking about work or establishing a business in tunisia the system bends backwards to accomodate you...prosperity is the mother of nessecity and no longer poverty


  12. Anonymous thumb

    Mehdi 2010-8-4

    I think that the analysis this article provides is quite erroneous. The global crisis is not the source of unemployment. A quick Google search will show you that in 2007 the unemployment rate in Tunisia was 14.1%. This was prior to the global crisis. Presently, it is near 15%. Yes, an increase of .9% is a lot (approximately 93,000 people), but it was even higher in the 1990s (approximately 16%). I suppose the bursting of the real estate bubble in the US also caused this? The real source of unemployment comes from the short-term scheming of various politicians. I do want emphasize that this is “short-term”, because their scheming works on a 5-10 year plan to strip the country of as much wealth as possible. This is very difficult to understand for people with altruistic interests. If you look at all the potential Tunisia has and you assume everyone is altruistic, then the only explanation for unemployment can be external factors. But, this is not the case. The political system is set up to eliminate anyone who is not complicit in corruption – i.e., using a political office for personal gain. Those with a stake in the corruption remove anyone who does not act according to their terms. Consequently, the exploitation of natural resources, which should belong to the country as a whole, is contracted to foreign companies at below-market prices just so the politicians can siphon the money. This is faster than waiting the 10-20 years it would take educate the population and develop sustainable, profitable industry.


  13. Anonymous thumb

    SUPPLIED 2010-8-3

    AVERTING THE FINANCIAL CRISIS IS NOT DUE TO THE PRESIDENT BUT TO A TUNISIAN CITIZEN WHO WORKS IN FINANCIAL SERVISES IN UK THANK YOU.as for jobs the opportunities are numerous and you must be active and think on your toes to get a job.


  14. Anonymous thumb

    aya 2010-8-2

    that's true there's ,no opportunities to work.am under graduated and am worried also like beji.


  15. Anonymous thumb

    تلميذ من ثانوية إبن الهيثم بسوق الأحد. قبلي. تونس 2010-7-31

    What is our guilt students if job now is with favouritism (shoulders) as we say in our dialect. As an example, I still study in the fourth year of the secondary. I like my studies. My results are excellent. But the question is, will this love for studies continue when I see my sister, who got her diploma two years ago with honours and is unemployed or my brother who is a graduate and unemployed. To sum up, my family members are brilliant but… what is the use of this if they don’t work? My neighbour graduated seven years ago, my cousin as well… If I count those who are unemployed, I won’t stop writing. But God suffices us we unemployed Tunisian graduates without shoulders!


  16. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2010-7-31

    “El Beji, like many students, finished college on to find a job market ravaged by the global economic crisis.” What a lie! Ben Ali assures us that Tunisia, unlike the rest of the world, has stood up to the economic crisis. In his newspaper, "La Presse", the parrots bear witness to the truths coming out of the president’s mouth. Long articles praise the genius of that person who predicted the crisis before it began and took preventative measures that have themselves been proven. This is a kick in the behind for the rest of the world! According to "La Presse": ‘Everything is going very well, Madam the Marchioness’ from last 30 June, Head of the Central Bank Taoufik Baccar confirmed without breaking into laughter: “Thanks to its ability to make predictions, Tunisia was able to necessary measures on time to mitigate the effects of the crisis, which has allowed it to maintain positive growth.” To the same tune, another brown-noser, president of the Chamber of Advisors Abdallah Kallel, informed us that “our country succeeded in mitigating effects of the crisis thanks to a series of serious reforms and preventative measures on behalf of the Head of State.” Who's talking about ravaged markets? If this is so, then it is not in Tunisia. You have to keep repeating this to Tunisia’s unemployed graduates. Tunisia is even doing better than before and organising festivals throughout the country for salsa dancing. International stars come here to fill their pockets, just like last year’s Charlez Aznavour, who got 600,000 euros per evening. On the eve of the French Revolution, after hearing that the people had no bread, Queen Marie Antoinette retorted, “Let them eat cake!” What about the jobless graduates? Let them dance salsa! They are not wanting for time.


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