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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09TUNIS297 2009-05-18 09:55:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

FULBRIGHT STUDENT PROGRAM IN TUNISIA UNDER REVIEW

Tags:   PREL PGOV SCUL KPAO TS 
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1. (C) SUMMARY. On April 29, Embassy PAO and ECA Branch
Chief Donna Ives met with Abderahman Boukricha, Director of
International Cooperation for the Ministry of Higher
Education, Scientific Research and Training (MOHE) to discuss
the future of the program in Tunisia. After the abrupt
denial of research permission for American Fulbright students
in July 2008 (see reftels), the dossiers for this year were
sent to the GOT in February with a deadline subsequently
extended to May 20. Boukricha indicated that the MOHE would
not likely respond in time. The Ambassador raised the
deadline with FM Abdallah on May 7 and requested a reply as
soon as possible before May 20. In the event that no
response is forthcoming from the GOT by May 20, the
Department should consider suspending the Fulbright student
program in Tunisia. END SUMMARY.

LAST SUMMER


--------------------------





2. (U) As per reftels, on July 29, 2008, the Tunisian MFA
informed the Embassy via diplomatic note that all nine U.S.
Fulbright student researchers for 2008-09 were not approved
to carry out research in Tunisia. After a demarche by the
Ambassador, the MFA partially reversed the decision via
diplomatic note on August 14 and permitted four of the nine
students to carry out their research on four topics: economic
development in Tunisia, urban development, women and foreign
investment, and working women and the family.

THIS YEAR - NO RESPONSE YET


--------------------------





3. (U) Embassy PAO met with Director of International
Cooperation Boukricha in October. At that meeting, the
Director stated that the GOT would like to affiliate the
students with Tunisian universities in order to facilitate
their research. He agreed to meet with the PAO once the
dossiers of the Fulbrighters were received for 2009-10 in
order to discuss placements and speed up the process. The
dossiers were forwarded in February to the MFA and the MOHE.
The PAO followed up with a series of phone calls expressing
the need for an earlier response than last year. The
Director stated there was no need to meet to discuss the
dossiers and they would forward them immediately for
consideration by the universities. However, by the beginning
of April, the MFA had not sent a response on the student
researchers.

GOT POSITION ON FULBRIGHT


--------------------------





4. (U) The Embassy sent a diplomatic note in April with the
ECA response deadline of May 20, 2009. On April 29, ECA
Branch Chief for Academic Exchanges for North Africa and the
Middle East, Donna Ives, PAO and CAO met with Boukricha to
discuss the future of the Fulbright program in Tunisia.
Boukricha stated that unless the MOHE makes an extreme
exception to their process, they will not be able to respond
by May 20. He noted that the U.S. students must be
affiliated with an MA program at a Tunisian university. They
would have their files considered by the university
committees that meet in May, June and July. These committees
would approve the "suitability" of the research topics and
the affiliations of the U.S. students by the end of July or
August. "Fantasy" research projects, such as poetry or
medieval history, or projects "against State interests,"
would be unlikely to be approved. He also noted that
affiliation with the American Institute of Maghrebi Studies
Center in Tunis would no longer be acceptable. In regards to
Tunisian students, the Director requested that all Tunisian
candidates come through the MOHE; they did not want to
participate in interviews or selection committees run by the
Embassy. The U.S. Fulbright program timeline and regulations
were conveyed by Ms. Ives. She noted that July or August was
not acceptable for a response date from the GOT and that the
Fulbright program was an open competition for the Tunisian
students.



5. (C) The Ambassador raised the deadline with FM Abdallah
on May 7 and requested a reply as soon as possible before May


20. The Minister took note of the request, remarking that
this is the responsibility of the Minister of Higher

TUNIS 00000297 002 OF 002


Education.

COMMENT



6. (C) The MOHE request to affiliate U.S. Fulbright students
with Tunisian universities is not unreasonable. However,
after consulting several other diplomatic missions (British,
Japanese and German), the PAO learned that other foreign
students are not required to go through the MOHE committees
and affiliating process. These missions also have an open
competition process for Tunisian students outside of the
MOHE.



7. (C) The Tunisian process and timeline do not fit the
dates of the U.S. Fulbright program award announcement in
late May and orientation in June. These conditions have been
explained to GOT officials in Tunisia; and, we understand
that the Department has spoken with other GOT representatives
such as Oussama Romdhani, the director of the Tunisian
External Communications Agency, and Tunisian Embassy
officials regarding the student Fulbright program. If the
GOT does not grant approval to the U.S. Fulbright student
grantees by May 20, the Embassy recommends that ECA and
NEA/MAG consider suspending the U.S./Tunisian student
Fulbright program for 2009-10. If the program is suspended,
we would also recommend continuing to work with the GOT to
determine whether a mutually acceptable formula can be found
to restore this important program.
Godec