A university diploma is no longer a source of pride in the Maghreb
Dropout rates in most Arab countries, including Tunisia, are increasing. One possible explanation sticks out: Young people today do not give much importance to obtaining a university diploma because they know that they will end up unemployed like many other university graduates.
Were you to ask Tunisian youth why they dropped out of school, the answer would be nearly identical. They would wonder what good a diploma does because it does not guarantee a job that is compatible with their ambitions and dreams that would justify the years spent in its pursuit.
Data for 2017 released by Tunisia’s National Institute of Statistics state there were 612,000 people unemployed in Tunisia; 250,000 of these were university graduates. The unemployment rate for holders of higher degrees stands at 32% but the rate for those who did not earn a degree is lower than the national average.
Hence this puzzling paradox: The higher the education level, the harder it becomes to secure employment.
Young Tunisians know the latest political and economic developments in post-revolution Tunisia and they have an awareness that a university degree is not the best way to a decent living.
Omar Belhedi, a professor at the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of Tunis, said education is no longer a distinguished and guaranteed step up the social ladder as it was in the recent past, except for the few who bolster their employment chances through nepotistic practices. Since the early 1970s, there has been a growing gap between education and employment.
“How do you expect youth to believe in university degrees when they see thousands of those who graduated before them wallowing in endless unemployment and desperation?” wondered Belhedi.
In the absence of a coherent system that prepares young people to adapt to evolving social and economic conditions, in addition to coping with the enormous gap they feel exists between expectations and reality, young Tunisians are caught in a spiral of failures and contradictions.
Universities in Tunisia keep churning out huge numbers of potential job-seekers way beyond the employment capacities of the Tunisian labour market.
Nadim Rehaimi, a recent university graduate, said that “a university degree is no longer the key to success in life.” He explained that most of the specialities taught at universities are not in demand in the labour market.
“It seems to me that the solution lies in reforming the education system by relying on vocational training and investing in it, as in Western countries, as well as motivating young people to initiate private projects,” he said.
Youth unemployment in Tunisia is not an isolated case in the Maghreb. Young people in Algeria suffer the same fate.
Rabeh el-Aska, professor of pedagogy at Algiers School of Education, said a university degree has lost its lustre in the eyes of much of the population. A crisis in the system of societal values and concepts placed material possessions and financial privileges at the top of the scale. So the new generation has different ambitions, which do not necessarily include obtaining a university degree.
Aska argued that socio-economic conditions, the frequent economic crises and the decreasing standards of living in Algerian society have contributed to the deterioration of the value system and the shift in concepts. A university degree used to be a project tended to by the whole family and implemented in schools, as the only way to build the new generation. It has now become the least of its members’ concerns.
In Morocco, young people hold similar perceptions of university degrees. Abdessalam Khanchoufi, a professor at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez, said university degrees in Morocco no longer guarantee socio-economic mobility and integration. He said education has ceased to be tied to the rapidly evolving necessities of the labour market.
Khanchoufi added that the curriculum offered at universities do not equip young people with fundamental professional knowledge, the kind of skills and competencies needed for local and international labour markets.
Young people in Morocco have lost confidence in their diplomas because university curricula in Morocco rely on rote learning and have little room for creativity, initiative, critical thinking and leadership. Naturally, they do not foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-employment.
Khanchoufi concluded that the situation of young graduates requires dialogue and cooperation between stakeholders in education, training and scientific research in Morocco who must look beyond the narrow confines of their sector.
The educational sector is highly strategic and must be subjected to higher standards of quality, good governance and productivity. Its funding also must be increased.