ESPRIT - Training engineers

Training engineers
were committed by Proparco in the Mediterranean and the Middle East in 2015.
The El Ghazala technopole in the suburbs north of Tunis is home to one of the country’s top schools: ESPRIT, which stands for the École Supérieure Privée d’Ingénierie et de Technologie. It opened twelve years ago, with 40 students attending. Since then, their ranks have swollen to nearly 5,000, some of them from all over French-speaking Africa.


What distinguishes ESPRIT is that 85% of its students have jobs six months after graduating – in a country with an unemployment rate of over 30% for people with higher education degrees. Its slogan is “Se former autrement” (“Learning differently”). Distancing itself from the “traditional” approach to education, the school emphasizes learning through problem-solving, the aim of which is to “put students in real workplace situations”, explains Naceur Ammar, its director. At the present time, 15% of Tunisia’s new engineers get their degrees at ESPRIT, which has ten dual diploma agreements abroad, above all with French schools. ESPRIT is also “one of the first schools in Africa to obtain EUR-ACE – the European accreditation for engineering programmes”, says Mohamed Jaoua, another of the school’s initiators. he school was created by three participants in the reform of public higher education, where they conducted their careers: Tahar Ben Lakhdar, Naceur Ammar and Mohamed Jaoua. “ESPRIT trains engineers for the business world, for the development of the country, for the creation of wealth. Our goal, our DNA, is the employability of our graduates,” Mr Jaoua explains. The three men share a desire to “offer general-purpose higher education”. At ESPRIT, annual tuition fees are in the vicinity of €2,500 (5,500 dinars). That amount, the founders stress, should be compared with what major French and American schools charge. “Our aim is to narrow the social divide in Tunisia; we don’t want education to be reserved for the wealthy.” That is why ESPRIT has established “a foundation that gives high-potential young people cheques that cover up to 100% of their tuition, depending on social background”.
Trois étudiants en train de regarder l'écran d'un ordi
tripartite shareholding structure
ESPRIT derives additional strength from its mixed mode of governance. Its founders have succeeded in bringing on board some sixty academics and engineers (who hold one third of the shares), along with a dozen ICT firms and institutional investors. In 2012, Proparco joined in, acquiring a €2m stake in the school.

Every year, ESPRIT students win a variety of international technology competitions. Others go to work for major names in Silicon Valley. To help talented students get ahead, the school’s founders created a startup incubator on campus in 2014. “We want to give students with an entrepreneurial bent the opportunity to test out their ideas for technology solutions, to nurture them and to relate them to market needs”, explains Alaya Bettaieb, the director. Roomy work spaces, six months of mentoring and partnerships with companies like Samsung are just a few of the ingredients in a recipe that is yielding results. Among the first students to have come out of the incubator are one making the rounds in the United States, another who has joined a startup accelerator in Dubai and yet another who has succeeded in raising funds locally for his startup in Sfax, the country’s second-largest city. To help the incubator develop further, Proparco co-financed a technical assistance programme in 2015 that is managed by Mercy Corps, an international NGO dedicated to entrepreneurship and employability for youth. “Our role is to advise ESPRIT on its incubation model and connect their initiative to market solutions in Tunisia and across the world,” explains Bertrand Effantin, the local administrative officer. “Mercy Corps supports a similar initiative in the Gaza Strip, which has a substantial network of business mentors, but no technology mentors of the kind offered by ESPRIT. It would be good to promote sharing of experience and networking between those two incubators.”
Connecting the incubator to the global ecosystem, to investors, as well as “giving it firmer moorings in the school so that it can be of value to everyone and catalyse the diversity and innovation that are already present here” are the challenges that the ESPRIT team intends to tackle. At a time in which higher education for young people has become a crucial issue in Africa, Mr Ben Lakhdar entertains the hope that with support from institutions like the AFD Group, “The ESPRIT model can be adapted in the future to Sub-Saharan Africa, with local people taking centre stage, at a cost adjusted to income levels but without sacrificing quality”.
groupe étudiants
Esprit, École Supérieure Privée d’Ingénierie


Incubateur ESPRIT en Tunisie
The ESPRIT incubator
The ESPRIT incubator

The ESPRIT incubator was created to allow students to develop initiatives, to give them the opportunity to nurture their ideas and to whet their entrepreneurial appetite. In late 2015, the government kicked off Smart Tunisia, a public-private partnership programme designed to make the country an attractive hightech hub. With a cohort of 600 fourth-year ICT students, ESPRIT has a fair amount of the talent needed to take up that challenge.