Some 4% of the 240,000 students enrolled in the country’s higher education institutions pre-pandemic were from overseas, with the majority of inbound students coming from Africa.
Speaking at the 2021 Going Global conference, director general of international cooperation at the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Malek Kochlef, said the country has a strategy to “reinforce the position of Tunisia as a destination for international students”.
“We are developing a new program to attract international students, including paying their fees at public sector [universities].”
While private sector institutions still require international students to pay fees, the government initiative led to Tunisia reaching a “record number” of international students in 2020.
“Despite the pandemic, in 2021 we only lost 2% of the number of international students,” Kochlef explained, adding that “reasonable levels” of international enrolments continue to be anticipated.
“This is also related to the way we have handled issues with international students during the pandemic,” he said.
In response to the emergency, Tunisia pivoted its international students accommodation policy to allow students facing economic difficulties access to housing. Psychological and financial support was also offered, Kochlef said.
For students unable to arrive in Tunisia during the pandemic, a centralised exam system created by the ministry administered exams for around 900 international students globally.
“We used as spaces for that universities in [around 20] countries, but also in some cases, even the embassies of Tunisia and some other offices related to our ministry,” he said.
“That was something that went very well.”
Additionally, initiatives to facilitate the return of international students to the country – including organising PCR tests and quarantine at hotels for more than 400 international students – allowed authorities to “keep a connection with students, but also with the countries sending students”.
“We attract students on an individual basis, but also through international cooperation”
“We attract students on an individual basis, but also through international cooperation and those to whom we offer waivers and scholarships,” Kochlef stated.
“And this way we get a reasonable level of numbers of international students for this year.”
Tunisia is also looking to establish an agency similar to UKCISA in the UK to “support orientation and the student life experience in Tunisia”.
To reach its target of 10% of students coming from overseas in the next four years, Tunisia is developing various programs and maintaining cooperation with African countries.
“Students from more than 40 African countries come Tunisia with scholarships from Tunisian government, but [we’re] also developing the possibilities that students come and they pay their fees in public universities and encourage them to attract and retain international students.”