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Tunisian-European Degree in Migration Studies Prepares Students to Help Find Solutions

A Tunisian-European joint master’s degree in migration studies will graduate its first class in September. Several participating professors have been telling Al-Fanar Media about the project’s work to prepare students to help solve a pressing global issue.

Three universities in Tunisia and three in Europe have collaborated on the course, which was created through MIGRANTS, an Erasmus+ project funded by the European Commission that seeks to reinforce the role of Tunisian higher education in the management of safe, orderly and regular migration. 

The course covers migration studies, governance, policies and cultures. Amel Guizani, an assistant professor of English literature at the University of Tunis, one of the Tunisian partner institutions, thinks it provides students with a deep understanding of the dynamics of migration.

“It enables students to gain mastery of this subject, explore theories, concepts, and empirical research related to migration in depth, and thus develop expertise in the field and contribute to evidence-based policymaking, advocacy, and academic discussion,” she told Al-Fanar Media.

The other Tunisian partners in the project are the University of Tunis El Manar and the University of Manouba. The European partners are the University of Palermo, in Italy, which coordinated the project; the University of Granada, in Spain; and the University of Westminster, in the United Kingdom.

The project also has three non-academic partners: COSPE (Together for Change), an Italian-based human-rights organisation; CLEDU, the Human Rights Legal Clinic of the University of Palermo; and UNIMED, the Mediterranean Universities Union.

New Collaboration on a Dual Degree

Although the project will end in September, it has already resulted in a collaboration between the three Tunisian universities and Italy’s University of Palermo on a double master’s degree in migration studies and related subjects.

Samira Mechri, chair of the English department at the University of Tunis El Manar and scientific coordinator of the master’s programme, spearheaded the efforts to establish the master’s degree.

“This joint programme stands out as a premier initiative, with three Tunisian universities offering a unified M.A.,” she told Al-Fanar Media. “The effort involves renowned experts such as Ramzi Ben Amara and Hassan Boubakri from the University of Sousse.”

The course has attracted international students and teaching staff, which fostered “a rich and inclusive learning environment,” she said.

The programme allows Tunisian students to study in Palermo while welcoming their counterparts for a semester or two in Tunis. This reciprocal arrangement not only enhances the academic experience but also promotes cultural exchange and mutual understanding, Mechri said.

The programme’s curriculum was designed by 25 to 30 university professors to cover various aspects  of migration, while recognising the inherently political nature of the subject.

Training Migration Experts 

Serena Marcenò, a professor of human rights and philosophy at the University of Palermo, is the project’s scientific coordinator. She emphasised the need to equip young people with knowledge and skills to address migration issues, not only in government but also in civil society.

“The program’s interdisciplinary nature, covering law, politics, sociology, and anthropology, provides students with a comprehensive skill set,” said Marcenò.

Hanene Ben Ouada Jamoussi and Habib Ben Boubaker, both academics at the University of Manouba, also think the programme’s graduates will be able to help decision makers create strategies to manage the problems related to migration and handle crises.

Guizani, the assistant professor of English literature at the University of Tunis, said the course offers a global perspective on migration patterns and promotes cross-cultural understanding. “This understanding is crucial in a globalised world characterised by intensive mobility and interconnectedness,” she said.

“This knowledge prepares them for careers in policymaking, international organisations, and research institutes, enabling them to contribute to the development of more effective and inclusive migration policies.”

A Student’s View

Nathanael Koffi Kouakou, a27-year-old M.A. student from the Ivory Coast, was attracted to the course’s focus on shaping a legal framework to protect migrants.

Kouakou said the programme had changed his life and made him question his preconceptions.

“This programme has shaped my perception of the migration narrative on the global, regional, and national levels,” he said. “It has equipped me with not only epistemic tools about the field but also exposed me to multicultural societies in Tunisia and Italy, broadening my ethnocentric view of the world.”

Depoliticising Migration

The programme includes a diverse range of case studies, examining the actions and policies of influential figures such as Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan and the former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Samira Mechri said the course had also discussed recent disasters with political implications, like the sinking of a trawler carrying up to 750 refugees in front of a Greek Coast Guard vessel on June 14.

She and her colleagues firmly believe in avoiding addressing migration through the narrow lens of crisis management. Instead, they want an open and inclusive approach, challenging taboos surrounding the discussion of illegal migration and emphasising the crucial role played by media.

Mechri recognises the need for reliable statistics about the plight of those undertaking perilous journeys on overcrowded boats, and the tragic deaths that often follow. She said her heart breaks over the trivialisation of these deaths and emphasises the importance of dialogue, even over sensitive issues like where the victims should be buried.

Tunisia’s Changing Status

Mechri explained that after the upheavals in the Arab world in 2011, Tunisia changed from being a country from which migrants set off to being a transit and receiving country.

She said Tunisia’s historical role as an educational destination for Sub-Saharan Africans had also evolved.  As well as students, the country now attracts individuals en route to Europe or seeking jobs in the cultural and service sectors.

“Tunisia has never been used to such huge numbers of refugees. We even lack the legal framework to recognise refugees despite hosting the Palestinians in the 1980s,” she said.

Despite the challenges, the Tunisian people have demonstrated remarkable compassion and solidarity, Mechri said. “Students have actively supported refugees on the southern borders, and during the pandemic. Local communities have rallied together, showing their willingness to help and their recognition of the valuable contributions made by migrants.”

The MIGRANTS Master’s Degree in Migration Studies: Governance, Policies, and Cultures has just launched its third edition and plans are being discussed for the future, to ensure the sustainability of the results in the long run. For more information, please visit the MIGRANTS website.



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