ERCIM Evaluation Team in Tunisia
by Jean-Michel Chassériaux
Following a request by the European Commission and in agreement with the Tunisian 'Secretariat d'Etat à la recherche scientifique et à la technologie' (SERST), ERCIM has been performing an evaluation of the Tunisian research in information technologies. From 27 to 31 January 1997 an ESPRIT evaluation team composed of: Pietro Maestrini, CNR, Keith Jeffery, CLRC, Jean-Michel Chassériaux, ERCIM office and Carlos Salema from the Portuguese Instituto de Telecommunicaôes, visited several Tunisian research institutions and had the opportunity of meeting the Tunisian Secrétaire d'Etat à la recherche scientifique et à la Technologie, Mr Mongi Safra.
Tunisia has a strong and diverse S&T community based at three universities with science and technology activities, 18 national research institutes (NRIs); and a small but expanding private R&D presence including a growing number of international joint ventures.
SERST which was set up in 1991 and is directly linked to the Office of the Prime Minister is in charge of the co-ordination and planning of research in Tunisia. It is also charged with international scientific and techno-logical co-operation. SERST has direct management responsibility for 9 NRIs, for the National University Centre for Scientific and Technological Docu-mentation but most of the Tunisian research is performed in the universities.
This evaluation was performed on the basis of a visit of six institutions:
- Institut Regional des Sciences Informatiques et des Telecommunications (IRSIT)
- Ecole Nationale des Sciences de l'Informatique (ENSI)
- Départment d'Informatique de la Faculté des Sciences de Tunis (FST)
- Ecole Supérieure des Postes et des Télécommunications (ESPTT)
- Centre National de l'Informatique (CNI)
- Ecole Nationale d'Ingenieurs de Tunis (ENIT)
and of the written documents provided by them. These institutions were designated by SERST and they cover the main research laboratories in Tunisia. So, although this was mainly an evaluation of a few institutions, some interesting conclusions can also be drawn for the whole Tunisian research scene in informatics and telecommunications:
Tunisian research in IT is rather small but generally speaking at a good level. The staff are highly qualified and the training delivered by the universities and engineering schools is at the level of European standards.
In spite of recent improvements, the general context for research remains more difficult than in most European countries:
- although research funding has been increasing recently it remains low compared with European standards
- for a long time administrative procedures have been rather cumbersome for some institutions. These problems should be alleviated by a new law on research due to be applied very soon.
- Due to the pressure on the higher education system, the number of full time researchers is rather limited. In particular, it is still difficult for a young PhD student to prepare his thesis full time. Most of the Tunisian researchers have obtained their PhD abroad. This means a large variety of approaches but also a certain dispersion in the fields of research covered.
- Access to information is still too difficult. Most libraries need to be improved and although access to Internet should not raise any difficulties in principle remains problematic for most institutions.
In conclusion, it should be emphasised that in spite of all these difficulties the importance of R&D and of the information technologies is fully recognised in Tunisia and that Tunisian research could play a significant role in the European research programmes
Jean-Michel Chassériaux - INRIA
Tel: +33 3963 5303