U.S. State Department MEPI grant builds on UGA-Tunisia educational partnership

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia engineering professor Takoi Hamrita has received a $600,000 U.S. State Department grant to advance higher education reform in Tunisia. The unique goals of the 16-month grant identify real opportunities based on extensive consultations with higher education leaders, administrators and faculty in Tunisia that pair national initiatives in the country with UGA leadership. Specifically the areas include public service and outreach, assessment and evaluation, and distance education – all crucial to the region’s long term modernization objectives.

The breadth of the project reflects attentive cultivation of support from key decision makers within the university community and the U.S. State Department and coordination with the leaders of a dynamic, developing country already deeply engaged in higher education reform efforts. By establishing several nexus points where the interests of these three stakeholders converged, Hamrita brought the partners together with strategic new connections that cross-benefit and amplify the efforts of the participants.

Funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a State Department initiative aimed largely at education reform efforts in the region, the grant focuses on three essential areas of work. First, the project will continue UGA efforts with the Virtual University of Tunis to support efforts in pedagogical training and online course development necessary to meet Tunisia’s goal of having 20 percent of the university curriculum in priority disciplines on the Web by 2006-07.

Second, the partnership will expand into working with Tunisian universities to establish effective self- and external evaluation mechanisms. UGA faculty will work closely with a national committee appointed by the Ministry of Higher Education to address this important issue.

The third area of work focuses on reinforcing the links between Tunisian universities and civil society via university public service and outreach. Through creative pilot projects, Tunisian faculty and administrators will begin to build mechanisms to establish the universities as brokers of knowledge and expertise to help their communities. This aspect of the collaboration with Tunisia allows UGA students and educators a unique opportunity to work closely with the communities and to gain a deeper understanding of Tunisian culture.

This new phase of the partnership was inaugurated on a recent visit to Tunisia by a high-level UGA delegation led by Arnett C. Mace Jr., UGA senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. Other delegation members included Steve Wrigley, senior vice president for external affairs; Bob Boehmer, associate provost for institutional effectiveness; and Hamrita, who serves as the director of the partnership.

The Tunisian government, a pioneer in the Arab world in recognizing the importance of decentralization in higher education, is in the process of implementing a nationwide reform of its university system. Likewise, the partnership with UGA has a national focus, with four major partnering universities bringing project participants from the entire country. The partnership will engage more than 12 UGA units including the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, Office of Instructional Support and Development (OISD), Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Faculty of Engineering, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, College of Education and the Board of Regents’ Advanced Learning Technologies.

“The UGA-Tunisia Educational Partnership is an innovative and significant collaborative program that will profoundly benefit UGA and higher education in Tunisia,” said Mace. “Dr. Takoi Hamrita has provided marvelous leadership. I am very impressed with the creative program and look forward to working with Takoi and the Tunisia partners to assure continued success.”

A native of Tunisia, Hamrita said she’s “very excited about this project and look[s] forward to the opportunities it provides UGA and Tunisia. It is one thing to envision such a project, but seeing it come to fruition is a product of the great efforts and wonderful support of the UGA administrators and faculty, the Tunisian government and the State Department.”

The new project builds on a foundation established by a 2003 State Department grant, which has involved about 80 faculty members at UGA and in Tunisia for training through OISD and the Institute of Higher Education and exemplifies the growing spirit of collaboration between Tunisia and UGA.