How EU is backing Tunisia's ambition to become Silicon Valley of the Maghreb


Picture of Khalil Amiri
Khalil Amiri

Khalil Amiri is Tunisia’s Secretary of State for Scientific Research and member of the Muslim Democrat Ennahdha Party

Modern Tunisia stands on the brink of transformational change, both for the country and the wider Maghreb region. The rapid pace of technological progress is opening unprecedented opportunities for our economies and people. The European Union has – and continues to be – a crucial supporter of our ambition to seize these opportunities.

This is the backdrop to our development of the new Tunisian Scientific Research and Innovation Strategy, which sees investment in research and innovation capacity as key to accelerating the transition to a knowledge economy, boosting sustainable and inclusive development, and consolidating the democratic transition through to 2022 and beyond.

Education and scientific research have always been at the centre of societal and economic progress, but their potential to create widespread prosperity has never been more significant. By investing in our multi-skilled and multi-lingual people, Tunisia is determined to continue strengthening the foundations for the emergence of a democratic, inclusive, healthy, and innovative society.

The EU has been a constructive partner for Tunisia in research and innovation

The new Scientific Research and Innovation Strategy lays out a new vision for Tunisia: to become a regional centre of excellence in scientific research and innovation and a platform for the creation of innovative start-ups – and we believe our young democracy has the capacity to fulfil this ambition.

Tunisia is ranked 60th internationally in terms of scientific production and leads the continent in scientific output by GDP or population. Driven by a generation of motivated and talented researchers and a strong community of Tunisian researchers abroad, we are the first Arab country to be associated to Horizon 2020, the EU’s Research and Innovation Programme, and this cooperation has provided our national research system with valuable support and recognition.

Since the Revolution in 2011, the EU has stepped up support for Tunisia in education, mobility, research and innovation. From our participation in the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes, to capacity-building and infrastructure projects, the EU has helped Tunisian institutes and universities break into the world’s largest programmes for research and innovation. The opportunity is now wide open for our researchers to benefit from this association and progress further.

The EU has been a constructive partner for Tunisia in research and innovation. It is Tunisia’s leading partner in terms of cross-border research projects, international research funding, and associated scientific publications. Moreover, it is also the leading foreign investor in high-value added sectors such as automotive parts, mechatronics, and pharmaceuticals.

Tunisia’s new strategy for scientific research represents a bold but vital plan for transformation, including dozens of key initiatives aimed at achieving five overarching goals: to improve the standing of our universities; support innovative and pioneering enterprises; modernise public services; empower regions; and make the society more open and democratic.

This process has been driven by a broad national consultation involving more than 2,000 stakeholders from civil society, academia, public institutions and the private sector, with major companies and start-ups representing industries from robotics to healthcare.

By streamlining bureaucratic procedures, empowering innovators and unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of our young and talented population, we hope to spark the creation of jobs and opportunities for university graduates suffering from high unemployment and reduce the regional disparities in outlying areas. At the same time, we want to take advantage of the digital transformation to modernise public services and boost productivity in the private sector.

The ambition to see a “Silicon Valley” emerge in the Maghreb is directly tied to our vision of a growing and democratic Tunisia

We also plan to accelerate technology transfer in sectors where our country boasts significant research output and economic growth potential such as vaccine production, clinical research and pharmaceuticals; biotech applied to organic farming, food processing and the circular economy; textiles and clothing; automotive and aeronautic manufacturing; information and communication technologies; and renewable energy. By improving the infrastructure and governance of the country’s technology parks dedicated to these high-growth sectors, we hope that these parks will serve as technology transfer catalysts and drivers of innovation and regional development.

Turning Tunisia into a tech hub that can connect communities across the country, across the Maghreb, and across the Mediterranean requires the country to be more open and attractive for people and business. The progressive constitution of 2014, new investment legislation and associated incentives voted in 2017, the start-up act approved recently by the government and awaiting parliamentary ratification, ongoing investments in infrastructure and in public sector reform, and the improving security situation – Tunis has been recently credited with the lowest crime rate and highest safety level on the continent – all enhance the country’s investment climate.

Our ambition to see a “Silicon Valley” emerge in the Maghreb is directly tied to our vision of a growing and democratic Tunisia, a pioneering and vibrant country that continues to lead – by example. It is vital for our people and for the region that our country delivers on the prosperity promise of democratic governance. To this end, the continued engagement and support of our international and particularly European partners is of utmost importance.

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