Although a 2008 law mandates the teaching of entrepreneurship in Tunisian universities, many experts say they believe the country’s education system is producing a risk-averse labor force with little incentive to pursue innovation.
Current entrepreneurship educational programs at Tunisian universities are “primitive,” according to Lotfi Saibi, the CEO of 21st Century Services & 4-D Leadership House.
Promoting entrepreneurship in the educational system should be the main focus of the government for one simple reason: “The Tunisian employment sector is unable to absorb the 26.9% of unemployed college graduates,” according to Mohamed Ali Chebâane, Executive Director of the Maghreb Enterprise Development Initiative, a nonprofit think tank.
“Tunisian youth ought to be encouraged and empowered to create their own jobs and be self-employed instead of relying on the government,” Chebâane said.
Yet this view of entrepreneurship’s benefits is somewhat limited, according to Ali Mnif, project manager of Education for Employment and a young entrepreneur.
An entrepreneurial engine is not only needed to create start ups that can generate employment, but also to create “intrapreneurs,” employees who behave like entrepreneurs within their organizations, said Lassaad Mezgheni, professor of Strategic Management at IHEC Carthage and a freelance international expert on entrepreneurship .
A 2012 survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that while 60% of Tunisian students considered a career in business, only 5% actually began to pursue this line of work. Mezgheni attributed this huge gap to the difference between aspiration and realization.
Nevertheless, Tunisia is already taking major efforts to promote entrepreneurship in comparison to other countries in the region, Mezgheni claimed.
Experts proposed several steps that could be taken to promote entrepreneurship, although Mezgheni warned that “the remediation process will take years to yield outcomes.”
Those interviewed said that Tunisian youngsters should be taught principles of entrepreneurship starting in primary school. They also said that the Tunisian educational system should promote soft, as well as hard, skills among its students.
“This is why the Tunisian educational system has to be reviewed to make young learners less passive and more active and interactive,” Chebâane said.
In addition, entrepreneurship shall be mixed with other subjects, such as mathematics, Mezgheni said.
Saibi noted that students also need to be taught to take risks.
“It’s okay to fail,” Saibi said. “I created 12 start ups; four of them failed, and I learned more from my failures than my successes.”
“Failure should be seen as an asset to the resume,” he continued. “The best way to promote it is to speak openly about it.”
Mnif added that while there are many initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship, most of them are run by foreigners. For this reason the Tunisian government should establish a national committee to improve the entrepreneurship in Tunisia and mediate between different actors in the system, Chebâane said.