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Interview
Essaieb HAMDI

Professor in Civil Engineering
Dean of Engineering Studies
Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Tunisia






Since the independence in 1956, Tunisia has shown considerable strategic efforts to promote education, science, and domestic and foreign investment. Several indicators coming from international organizations (World Bank, OCED, UNESCO ...) show that Tunisia is ranked in the top positions not only in terms of the proportion of researchers in relation to the total number of the active mass (25-64 years old), but also in terms of the percentage of women among these researchers. With 51.2% of female researchers, Tunisia spot as a particular and outstanding case among the MENA region countries.

On the other hand, other indicators show the need to make additional efforts on other levels, particularly in relation to domestic investment in R&D. Currently only around 1% of the GDP is spent in R&D projects. This has not changed since 2004. Recall that this domestic expenditure is equal to 4.31% in South Korea (2015).

The geographical situation of Tunisia (at the crossroads of three continents) and its very open economy to foreign investments and its industrial fabric characterized by flexible SMEs are some of the advantages that Tunisia should capitalize on in order to increase the performance of its National STI system (universities, research laboratories, technical centers, technoparks, innovative companies ...).

Within the global framework of the higher education and scientific research reform and in full compliance with the objectives of the National Sectorial Master Plan (2016-2020), Tunisia continues to promote collaborative projects of partnership between research centers and private sector and to develop/enhance intellectual property, through a series of programs/devices and incentives and nonfinancial measures.

In particular, youth graduates of higher education are more than encouraged to launch their innovative startups in promising and high added-value fields. This is one of the major concerns of the present Tunisian STI policy. Installing new interface structures (incubators, accelerators...) and strengthening existing structures (technoparks, Technology Transfer Offices,...) aim primarily strengthening the national innovation system and secondly increasing competitiveness and productivity of start-ups and SMEs.

On the other hand, South Korea serves as a very good example to the nations of the world in terms of industrialization and technology transfer. The transition from a “poor” country in 1960 when foreign exchange reserves were just 160 Million USD (101st in the world GDP) into a highly industrialized country in 2015 where foreign exchange reserves reached 34.3 Billion USD in 2013 (13th economy in the World) was spectacular. This transition was mainly based on the promotion of heavy industry and the optimal use of Korean human resources by increasing incentives to work and productivity. Observing the evolution of Korean policies in terms of S & T clearly shows a gradual change of strategy, S & T policy, priority industries and leading sector.

Then, what are the Tunisian-Korean cooperation alternatives in terms of STI, considering the current democratic transition that Tunisia is experiencing and the growing political willingness to reform the national innovation system?

At this stage of my analysis, let me remind that a SWOT analysis has been conducted by the Tunisian Government in 2015 and highlighted, in particular, the lack of monitoring/evaluation of STI public policies and the ineffectiveness of interface structures between public research and the business sector.

So, I would recommend concentrating joint Tunisian-Korean efforts on these two particular points.

First, the establishment of a national structure in charge of Technology Transfer and Commercialization would be very valuable tool in defining the strategies, evaluating the technology demand, and proposing new business models for technology in Tunisia. Naturally, all STI stakeholders would be represented in such a structure leading to more efficient vertical and horizontal governance of programming, policy and research functions.

Second, another potential cooperation axis could deal with enhancing and developing the competencies of experts and major decision makers in the fields of S&T, policy formulation, technology transfer, technology commercialization and technology marketing. The aim of these thematic seminars/training sessions is to learn from the Korean experiences how to set-up efficient mechanisms aiming at increasing the willingness of local and international investors to catch-up innovative technology, especially by improving the regulatory environment framework.

To insure the sustainability of such common actions, funds have to be raised. Market investigations, research valuation, building capacity of institutions are some of continuous and endless processes to be maintained. Benchmarking practices with other countries experiences are also a good STI management procedure!
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