New ‘political technocrat’ minister faces stiff challenges

Morocco’s new higher education minister, a former university president, joins a significant number of what are known as ‘political technocrats’ taking the helm in higher education ministries in North Africa. No matter how he is described, he faces a range of tough challenges in the sector.

Said Amzazi, whose full title will be Minister of Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, is a former head of Mohammed V University in Morocco. He is also a member of the Popular Movement, which is part of the ruling coalition government, among a number of new cabinet members announced by King Mohammed VI on 22 January. All of the new appointees belong to the same parties as the outgoing ministers, which keeps the government’s coalition parties unchanged.

Given his political affiliation, Amzazi is perceived as a ‘political technocrat’ – university professors and higher education experts selected from the academic and university community who have affiliation to political parties or are engaged in political activities – rather than simply a ‘technocrat’.

'Two sides'

"A political technocrat has two sides. He is a technically skilled expert with political experience who has the ability to deal with people and has some sort of flexibility along with the ability to apply scientific method to problem-solving," said Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Cairo's National Research Centre, Egypt.

"Theoretically, a political technocrat is better placed than a mere technocrat to lead the higher education ministry but practically every case must be studied on its own," he said.

Most of the current North African ministers of higher education and scientific research are ’political technocrats’. In addition to Morocco's new minister, they include Tunisian management expert Slim Khalbous who was dean of the Institute of Higher Commercial Studies of Carthage University, Algerian Arabic language and literature expert Tahar Hadjar who was president of the University of Algiers, Mauritanian physicist Sidi Ould Salem who was a professor at the University of Nouakchott, and Sudanese geneticist Somaya Abu Kashawa who was vice-president of the University of Khartoum.

Born in 1962 in Sefrou, Amzazi holds a PhD in biology from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. He has held a number of academic positions during his career, including vice-president of the board of trustees of Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed V University in the United Arab Emirates, president of Rabat’s Mohammed V University, and dean of Rabat’s faculty of sciences.

Amzazi is also the president of the commission for the selection of merit scholarships by the Mohammed VI Foundation for Solidarity and a member of the National Commission for Accreditation and Coordination of Higher Education.

Opinion is divided on whether it is necessary to have an academic in the position. Mohamed El Amine Moumine, professor at Ben M'Sik Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the University of Hassan II Casablanca, Morocco, said: "It is not necessary to have an academic minister to lead higher education reforms."

However, most people agree that reform is necessary given the ‘crisis’ in higher education marked by graduate unemployment, poor research outputs, high dropout rates, academic brain drain and inadequate infrastructure.

"Morocco's government has made improving education a strategic priority, but the hurdles are many and deeply rooted," said Anouar Majid, a Moroccan higher education expert and vice-president for global affairs at the University of New England in the United States.


According to Moumine, the new minister must focus on governance, unclear research policy and the mismatch between the training offered and societal needs.

Moumine called on the new minister to "launch a national debate which includes all the field players such as students, university academic staff and administrators, local business leaders, government, professional bodies and community".

From independence in 1956 until now, Morocco's higher education has been the subject of many reforms, due in part to the obsolete missions of universities as well as lack of alignment with the job market. These reforms targeted various aspects of higher education and included the creation of new universities, the accreditation of new programmes and the introduction of new academic departments, according to a February 2017 report entitled Overview of the Higher Education System.

However, such reforms have largely been opposed by teachers and students due to the bureaucratic and centralised decision-making that came with it, according to a report entitled The Reform of Higher Education in Morocco.

University dropouts

Moumine, who is the co-author of an April 2017 report entitled Outlook on Student Retention in Higher Education University Reforms in Morocco, indicated that Moroccan universities suffer from a very high rate of student dropouts.

Official figures from the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research indicated that 64% of students drop out without a degree, 25.2% of these occurring in the first year, 40.2% after two years, and 21.9% after three years. Among the students who persist, many spend up to six years at university without completing their degree.

The report indicated it is necessary to provide effective support to students by combining institutional, pedagogical, sociological and psychological means.

Higher education-industry cooperation

Like most North African countries, Morocco needs to strengthen the cooperation between higher education and industry, Narimane Hadj-Hamou, international consultant, founder and CEO of the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions, United Arab Emirates, told University World News.

"Successful strategic industry-university partnerships would not only help improve graduates’ skills and thus increase employability but also ensure that relevant curricula are developed and continuously reviewed to address the dynamic changing needs of today’s global workplace," Hadj-Hamou said.

"Moreover, an efficient academic-industry partnership would also improve support funding for relevant research, establishment of cooperative research projects and incubators."

Brain drain

For Majid, the brain drain reflects Morocco’s severe crisis in all levels of education.

The number of Moroccans living abroad is equivalent to 13% of the total population (about 4.5 million), according to a 3 September 2017 report entitled Morocco: Brain drain.

“The government needs to invest heavily in the process of transfer of brain drain to brain gain,” he said.

"Academic Moroccan expats could help in Morocco's higher education development if they are encouraged to do so, but the problem needs a multifaceted and long-term approach."