Minister announces ‘hubs’ and other university changes

Morocco is considering a number of higher education reforms, including grouping big universities together into ‘hubs’ to increase their visibility, promoting research and making mastering English compulsory for students wanting admission to science universities.

According to a report in Almaghribia, the new measures were announced by Morocco's Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Training, Lahcen Daoudi, at a Maghreb Arab Press Forum held under the theme “2014-2015 Academic Year: Expectations and challenges” on 16 September in Rabat, Morocco.

People should stop calling Moroccan universities ‘unemployment factories’, Daoudi reportedly said. Universities are not responsible for the jobless rate among young graduates, which has reached 24%. Instead, the minister blamed the national economy.

“To boost employment, we need a stable rate of growth between 7% and 8%. Until we reach that percentage, unemployment will continue,” Daoudi said.

He indicated that besides expanding capacity, there were several indicators that testified to the evolution of the Moroccan university and its ability to support changes taking place in society.

For example, from 2011 to 2014 the number of new students enrolled in universities rose by 47%, the number of university professors increased by 13% and 10 new higher education institutions were built.

Universities should also not receive all of the blame for failings in the higher education sector, Daoudi said, adding that the entire education system should be reviewed, from primary level upwards.

Status of higher education

Moroccan universities do not rank highly in global rankings, despite having one of the world’s oldest universities – University of Al-Karaouine.

The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 of the World Economic Forum rates Morocco 34 out of 144 countries for the availability of scientists and engineers and 68 for the quality of maths and science education.

But it is ranked lower in other areas: 85 for the quality of scientific research institutions, 90 for innovation, 96 for university-industry collaboration in research and development, 102 for the quality of its education system, 104 for higher education and training, and 105 for both tertiary education enrolment and technological readiness.

According to a map showing the distribution of researchers per million inhabitants by country, Morocco has 647 researchers per million inhabitants, below the world average.

Improving university education

To reform university education, there are two main areas of focus, including restructuring higher education by grouping big universities together into ‘hubs’, in order to increase their visibility across the region and Africa and to help promote university research.

Second, according to a 15 September circular, from January 2015 it will be obligatory for science students and research professors in science, technology, health sciences and economics to master English before being able to study or be employed in science universities.

The move is intended to boost the position of English in Moroccan universities, as English is the global language of science and its usage is seen as a way to advance scientific research.

The circular has sparked controversy in the higher education community, with some hailing the minister’s decision as a positive development and others dismissing it as “arbitrary and discriminatory”, according to a 16 September report in Morocco World News.

Another report questioned the meaning of making mastering English obligatory and how it would be applied, and what the fate would be of professors who did not know English in a country where French is the most important teaching language after Arabic.

Under the 2011 Moroccan constitution, both Arabic and Amazigh are official languages, and higher education institutions may use Arabic, French or sometimes Spanish.