Unemployment haunts Tunisia college graduates
By Housa Trabelsi for Magharebia in Tunis — 30/07/10
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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