Tunisia Is Becoming Singapore of Africa with Science & Technology Innovation and Education Innovation
Reflection of TABC-FITA 2022 Tunis
By Professor Richard Li-Hua
ELITE Innovation College Cambridge, UK
10th June, 2022
It was my great honour to have met with three ministers of Tunisian Higher Education and Scientific Research during my visit to Tunis. I felt very privileged to have opportunities in having profound exchanges and sharing fresh perspectives on tackling the opportunities and challenges and the future development trends in the global higher education during and in the post COVID-19 era. It was a short visit, however, it has given me an excellent opportunity to learn about the aspects of political, social, and economic development, the situation of scientific research and international technology transfer and the rapid development of higher education through education innovation in the country.
To some extent, by having this title, I quote Professor Ahmed Friaa, former Minister, “Tunisia can become the Singapore of Africa” in his remarks during the signing ceremony between Tunisian Forum for Knowledge and Human Development and China Association for Management of Technology. However, I have seen during my visit that Tunisia is very likely to become the Singapore in Africa.
Comparison between Tunisia and Singapore
Tunisia's population amounted to around 12 million in 2022. The country is one of the least populous in North Africa, followed by Libya. With an increasing urbanization rate, most people live in the governorates of Tunis, Sfax, and Nabeul, the leading areas by number of residents. Although the annual population growth slowed down in 2019 and 2020, the Tunisian population is forecast to increase to around 12.5 million by 2026. However, during 2022, Singapore population is projected to increase by 119,054 people and reach 6,177,793 in the beginning of 2023. The natural increase is expected to be positive, as the number of births will exceed the number of deaths by 28,779.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Tunisia was worth 39.24 billion US dollars in 2020, according to official data from the World Bank. The GDP value of Tunisia represents 0.03 percent of the world economy. However, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Singapore was worth 340 billion US dollars in 2020, according to official data from the World Bank. The GDP value of Singapore represents 0.30 percent of the world economy.
The higher education sector has been well developed and good performance in terms of quantity of universities in Tunisia if you compare, for example, in the UK. In 2018–19, there were 165 higher education institutions in the UK that returned data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). However, UK university rankings and league tables are highly competitive. There are over 150 higher education institutions to choose from in the UK. UK has a population of 67 million while Tunisia has a population 12 million.
The higher education system of Tunisia is well represented by 166 universities with 1,740 study programs. In addition 1,038 Bachelor programs at 160 universities, 625 Master programs at 121 universities, and 77 PhD programs at 18 universities. However, Singapore may be a small country, but has big influence in the realms of higher education and research, it is a big hitter. A whole series of global reports have recognized Singapore as a world leader in research and innovation over the past few decades. In recent years, it’s been ranked seventh in the 2015 INSEAD Global Innovation Index, third in IMD’s 2014 World Competitiveness Rankings and second in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-15.
Within this context of global competitiveness and innovation, universities in Singapore are also gaining growing recognition, as Asian nations more generally strengthen their position in the global education market. Singapore’s two leading universities are now both ranked within the world’s top 15, and the city itself is ranked 15th in the QS Best Student Cities 2018, reflecting its combination of educational excellence, high quality of life, and diverse student community.
There are 34 universities in Singapore, of which six are national. The two best-known, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) both feature very highly in the QS World University Rankings 2021, offering courses in a wide range of subjects to their student populations of over 30,000 each.
The Rise of Africa
Because of my connection to African Content, I had well prepared my trip and keynote – The Rise of Africa, at TABC-FITA conference. For a long time, Africa used to be regarded as the “Forgotten Continent”, which was to some extent marginalized. However, with the world gradually moves to post COVID-19 era, it will be Africa’s turn and opportunity. It is time for us to now call the world’s attention to the social and economic development of the African nations.
As we are aware that there is no equitable sharing of global technological advances and their application in raising the welfare of states and there was no forcing basis to bring together developed and developing countries in developing collaboration, although international agencies, including United Nations, World Bank, OECD, BRICS, etc. have constantly made efforts to push in this direction. With unbalanced economic development, Africa must call upon itself to benefit from the intrinsic social innovation (ISI) and the new opportunities emerging from the pandemic including the International Technology Transfer (ITT).