Executive Summary:

Education, a vital sector in any country, requires stability and clear strategic visions. These are missing in Tunisia. The lack of stability and coherent policies has become the key feature of this sector which has led to a decline in quality and failed reform attempts. An independent structure that is far from political tensions and negotiations, representing a peaceful framework for exchange, is sorely needed.


Education is a building block for civilization and vital for supplying the state with the necessary human resources to manage the country and develop the economy. Countries are classified into either developing or advanced based on the quality of education systems and providing quality education is one of the United Nation’s’ sustainable development goals.

The designers and builders of post-independence Tunisia attached great importance to education by making it free and compulsory. A significant part of the state budget was allocated to financing the education sector. For example, in 1976, during the rule of President Habib Bourguiba, the Ministry of Education was allocated 36% of the state budget. 

The task of formulating and implementing public policies in education at the time was also entrusted to intellectuals such as Mahmoud Al-Masadi and Muhammad Al-Sharafi. These efforts culminated in an increase in Tunisia’s school enrolment to reach 95% according to the indicators of the National Institute of Statistics in the General Population and Population Census Report for 2014. The Tunisian public school system has also produced recognized skills in various scientific fields and Tunisia has exported its expertise and skills abroad.

However, in recent times, the country witnessed a rapid decline in its education quality rankings, both internationally and in the Arab region. Tunisia ranked 84th in the international education index and seventh in the Arab world index published by the Davos Economic Forum for 2019. Also, no university has succeeded in entering the “Times” classification for the best 300 universities in the world, except for Tunis El-Manar University, which entered the ranking in 2020 and ranked very low.

The latest World Bank report also confirmed that a child born in Tunisia loses 48% of his productive capacity when he grows older[1]. According to the Human Capital Index issued by the World Bank recently, if the current conditions for education and health in Tunisia continue to remain the same, a child born in Tunisia in 2020 will only reach 52% of his productive capacity when s/he becomes an adult. This means that the services provided by the education and health systems in Tunisia are wasting the capacities of Tunisian children by nearly half.

All stakeholders in the Tunisian education system are aware of this situation because the country is engaged in several development and modernization focused reform programs. However, the process has not benefited from a sufficiently stable climate that would enable these objectives to be achieved. Public policies in the education sector in Tunisia have always been characterized by instability and continuous disruptions. Therefore, it is necessary to create a structure that unifies these policies and oversees their implementation.

Unstable and inconsistent public policies

An evolution in structures but a lack of coordination

The education sector in Tunisia is characterized by the presence of several stakeholders from governmental officials and union members to civil society and international organizations actors.

Different ministries are responsible for supervising different levels and areas of teaching. The Ministry of Education supervises primary and secondary education, the Ministry of Vocational Training oversees the vocational training sector, the Ministry of Higher Education supervises university-level education, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Family, and Children supervises kindergartens and nurseries, and military training schools, such as military academies, are under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Defense. Some university institutions are also supervised by the Ministry of Higher Education in partnership with other ministries such as agricultural schools and agricultural research centers that are subject to joint supervision from the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Agriculture.

In addition, these multiple structures are continuously changing name and composition as sometimes departments are integrated into others ministries, abandoned, or placed under central administrative control. The Ministry of Vocational Training, for example, used to be a department within the Ministry of Education before it became the Ministry of Employment and Vocational Training. Then it was merged with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, to become the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Professional Integration. The large number of stakeholders have not been able to ensure continuous coordination and have, instead, focused on policies for individual sectors rather than formulating a strategic vision that helps education support the national strategies and which would contribute to economic growth.

Coordination between the various stakeholders in the sector only occurs with the signing of limited agreements between the overlapping ministries. This lack of coordination produces learning outcomes and curricula mismatches between primary and higher education levels, such in the language of instruction used for specialty subjects like computer programming; French at secondary level, and then in English in higher education. Overall, there is no comprehensive view of education that unifies sectoral policies to serve a set of common goals.

Unsuccessful reform experiences 

Since independence, Tunisia has undertaken three different educational system reform programs in 1958, 1991, and 2002.  

The reform process in 1958 aimed to consolidate the principles of the republic but it did not successfully end its close ties with the Francophone educational system. This is because these reforms aimed to unify the educational system, thus taking religious education away from Qur’anic schools.  

This reform experiment also focused on adopting a quality over quantity educational model whereby students were screened and the elite pursued higher education while the rest were directed to technical training. Although this experience recorded remarkable successes, it experienced failures due to tensions between the Francophone and the formerly-Qur’anic, the Zaitouna madrassasArabophone schools. This led to efforts to integrate the whole education challenging due to the differences between these two systems.

The reform experience in the 1970s aimed to orientate the education system towards serving the labor market by adapting curricula to market requirements. This was not the choice of Tunisian policymakers but due to external interference, in particular Tunisian decision-makers being influenced by Western educational models that were unsuitable for the Tunisian economy.

The impact of the political instability

Since the revolution in 2011, the Ministry of Education has been run by nine different ministers, at the rate of one minister every year, and the Ministry of Higher Education has been run by eight. There has been turmoil in the running of these vital ministries that are primarily responsible for setting and implementing public educational policies because their bureaus have witnessed continuous changes in composition, work methodology, approaches, and perspectives. The governmental instability and political infighting that Tunisia has been witnessing in recent years have subsequently made the educational sector unstable. 

In addition, none of the appointed ministers succeeded in developing a comprehensive strategic vision for reforming the educational system. Their efforts have been limited to keeping pace with developments and solving the problems pursued by those who preceded them while working under the constant threat of dismissal.

This volatile situation has negatively affected the performance of ministries and the implementation of education sector public policies. It has become governed by delay and hesitation. A government advisory team may draft a policy but if it is not to the newly appointed minister’s liking, it will never see the light of day. Also, education policies are implemented and then abandoned as soon as a change in ministry leadership occurs. For example, when Neji Jalloul was the Minister of Education, he developed a policy for digitizing textbooks along with the adoption of electronic tablets. The ministry piloted this policy in some schools and began preparing tenders for the procurement of tablets. However, this program was reversed and its implementation halted as soon as Jalloul was dismissed. A national consultation on education reform was launched in 2014[2]. This process produced recommendations that were used to draft new policies. However, these plans remain on the shelves of the ministry because another cabinet reshuffle occurred. These examples demonstrate that education sector policies have not been given sufficient time to achieve their goals due to the political instability caused by constant changes of ministerial personnel.

A Higher Council for Education and Training can coordinate and unify public policies in the educational sector

Objectives of a Higher Council for Education and Training

The educational sector urgently needs stability and this stability cannot be achieved without a unified structure that supervises the development and implementation of public education policies. This structure is not a pipe-dream because these councils are present in several countries with high education indicator scores. 

A Higher Council for Education and Training would facilitate the coordination of public policies in the educational field, unifies stakeholders’ visions, and supports the implementation and evaluation of national education strategies. It would also keep educational institutions away from political disputes and protected from political instrumentalization. This creates a stable work environment that allows educational structures to develop, and the council has the power to decide. 

Tunisia first attempted to establish a unified education structure, called the “Higher Council for Education”, according to governmental decree n° 2260 dated October 10, 2000[3] which outlined the council’s powers, composition, and function. According to the decree, the council is composed of the ministers of education, higher education, finance, and interior. However, it lacked any real power because that the first chapter only assigned it an advisory function and its composition was the equivalent of a reduced government, that would experience the same amount of tensions, not to mention the absence of clear program objectives that define the council’s priorities, dispute resolution mechanisms, or processes to handle major education issues. 

Comparative examples of higher councils for education

Higher councils for education have been established in several countries and their work has achieved stability in education policies. They have even been starting points for several reform experiments, as the experience was applied in, non-exhaustively, France, Italy, Denmark, Jordan, Algeria, and Morocco. The Moroccan experience would be a suitable comparison for Tunisia considering the demographic and world education ranking similarities between the two countries.

Morocco’s Supreme Council for Education, Teaching, and Scientific Research is an independent advisory body that was created under Article 168 of the Moroccan Constitution. Its mission is to issue verdicts on all public policies and issues of a national character that concern the fields of education and training and scientific research. The Council works for good governance, sustainable development, and participatory democracy.  It also works as a strategic thinking hub on issues of education, training, scientific research, and operates as a pluralistic space for discussion and coordination on various issues related to these fields. Moroccan law has also assigned this council the role of informing decision-makers, key actors, and public opinion, through regular quantitative and qualitative assessments of the various components of the education, training, and scientific research system. 

The Council consists of 100 members distributed among experts, professors, and various educational sector stakeholders, in addition to 26 members representing the government, academic and scientific institutions, parliament, and education and training institutions. 58 members represent organizations and trade unions[4].

Establishing the Higher Council for Education and Training: a request from all national actors

Various documents issued by official institutions and civil society actors show support for the establishment of the Higher Council for Education and Training as a key part of education system reform. Indeed, reports from the national consultations for educators,  which began in June 2012, identify that its creation has been requested by the majority of teachers and the educational body in general.

  • “Creating a higher education council and setting up a consultative framework for coordination between the educational system and the higher education and training systems …”[5] was mentioned in the results section of the national report on consultation for primary education teachers. “The teachers believe that a supreme independent educational body, which promotes an educational philosophy that inspires social change and monitors the evaluation of educational experiences, will guarantee the independence of the educational system.”
  • The report of the National Dialogue on Reform of the Education System – Dialogue of the Authorities – stated that one suggestion from the regional consultancy reports is the “establishment of a Higher Council for Education to be included in the Constitution” which was repeated 12 times and emphasized in the Conclusions section: “Most consider that education should be made a national strategic affair that concerns not only a ministry but all state structures and institutions”. This request was reiterated in the fourth workshop that focused on governance and management titled “The Relationship between the center and the regions.” Among the mentioned solutions, “the creation of a higher council for education with attached regional councils, would form a framework for democratizing management and protecting the public service from all instrumentalization.”[6]

Tunisia civil society organizations have also been active in advocating for the establishment of an education council. The National Assembly of the Civil Coalition to Reform the Educational System, prepared a draft law for the creation of a higher council for education, training and scientific research and submitted it to Parliament.[7]


Education is a vital sector that requires stability and develops when strategic visions are in place. This has not been achieved in Tunisia because political instability has caused disturbances and obstructions to the implementation of education sector policies and educational programs. The multitude of structures, the absence of coordination, and the lack of a clear strategy has exacerbated the chaos.

Amidst this institutional and programmatic disorder, there is a need for a stable, inclusive structure that remains far from the scope of political negotiations, is immune to foreign infiltration, and would be a benchmark for education sector public policies, as is the case in several foreign countries. Furthermore, its creation would be meet the demands of most groups in the education sector.


– The executive branch of government should launch a national consultation for the creation of a Higher Council for Education and Training. 

– The executive branch of government should organize a national dialogue on the Higher Council for Education and Training, which includes agreement on the council’s structure and objectives. The dialogue’s outputs will a draft law regarding the establishment of the council

– The executive branch of government should repeal Decree No. 2260 of 2000 and submit a draft law that establishes a higher council for education that has financial and administrative independence and oversees the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of public policies for education.

[1]The World Bank, World Development Report 2018, available at (Accessed on December 4, 2020, 09:36) [2] Ministry of Education website [3] The official Journal of the Republic of Tunisia, issued on October 10, 2000 [4] Website of the Moroccan Supreme Council for Education, Education and Scientific Research [5] National report on the results of the consultation for primary education teachers. Page 16 [6] National report on the results of the national consultation of primary education teachers. Page 49 [7] محمد ضيف الله، “الجمعية الوطنية للائتلاف المدني لإصلاح المنظومة التربوية تقترح حلولا لأزمة التعليم”، 

Le contributeur


Researcher In Private Law at the Faculty of Legal, Political and Social Sciences in Tunisia. The President of the scholar club: Legal Enlightement. Research at the Pandora Conulting Center

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