Ministry recognises degrees of eight private universities

In what it described as a “historic” step to boost private higher education, Morocco's Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Professional Training earlier this month recognised the degrees of eight private universities.

According to a ministry statement dated 2 May, the newly recognised degrees are from the following institutions: l’Université Privée de Marrakech, l’Université Mohammed VI des Sciences de la Santé, L’université Internationale Abulcasis des Sciences de la Santé, l’Université Internationale de Casablanca, l’Université Internationale d’Agadir, l’Ecole Supérieure d’Architecture de Casablanca, l’Ecole d’Administration des Affaires and l’Ecole Centrale Casablanca.

The ministry’s decision to recognise the degrees was taken after an assessment based on educational and innovation criteria, along with the anticipated contribution of private higher education to a knowledge-based economy, as is indicated in the ministry’s 2017 regulations relating to the authorising, licensing and recognition of private higher education institutions.

Reaction to the move to recognise private university degrees has been mixed. While some stakeholders support the move because they see it as paving the way for degrees from private institutions to obtain equal footing with degrees delivered by public universities and colleges and to open the door to jobs for private university graduates in the public sector, others are concerned by what they see as the slow but gradual privatisation of higher education, according to a 2 May press report.

Moroccan higher education expert and vice-president for global affairs at the University of New England in the United States Anouar Majid told University World News the emphasis in the establishment of any private institution should be on quality.

"Higher education in Morocco is in an abysmal state as public education is beset by all kinds of challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, strikes, and violence on campuses … While establishing private universities is a way to avoid the troubles that have plagued the public sector for decades, Moroccan officials need to make sure that quality of education and research remain a priority," he said.

The concept of private universities is new in Morocco, said Majid.

Profit motive

"Investors see it as a money-making opportunity, without understanding the need to reinvest student money in the learning and research experience to become more competitive."

Majid said in order to establish and maintain quality in education and research, private universities would need to recruit the best faculty, employ them full time, give them the freedom they need, and invest in research. They would need to develop their own curricula rather than import programmes from established universities abroad under the guise of partnerships.

"Doing so [importing an existing programme] now may be an expedient start to a system that is unfamiliar to most officials in Morocco, but, in the long run, a private university needs to have its own educational identity,” he said.

"The best way to [set up] a private university is to follow the US model: establish not-for-profit corporations whose mission is education and social progress," Majid said. "The country’s tax code may need to be adjusted to encourage tax-deductible contributions and other kinds of philanthropy.

"Otherwise, public-private partnerships, as in the case of the International University of Rabat, are probably the best way to go in the beginning," Majid said.

In 2016 Rabat International University became the first private university to be officially recognised in Morocco. It was awarded the '2017 IIE Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education' by the American Institute of International Education, or IIE, with its United States academic partner, Mississippi State University.

Public-private partnerships

In another example of a public-private university partnership, six Moroccan universities – representing both public and private institutions – are to take part in the launch of a free e-learning platform known as MarMOOC . The platform, with startup costs of an estimated €1 million (US$1.1 million), is expected to be completed and ready for launch in October 2019, according to a local press report.

There is also the hope that increased private sector participation in the establishment of competitive and quality universities could bolster Morocco’s efforts to ensure the workforce aligns with labour market demands, as well as tackle problems of overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of professors in public universities, according to Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Cairo's National Research Centre.

The need for market and industry-ready graduates is clear as the North African nations of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria make up the lower end of the region’s human capital rankings at 98, 101 and 117 respectively, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Human Capital Report which ranks 130 countries on how well they are developing and deploying their talent.