One person arrested in masters-for-money scandal

A person has been arrested and a senior member of Transparency Maroc has been suspended from the association in the wake of allegations that students were being asked to pay over US$4,000 to guarantee a place on a university masters course in Morocco.

The higher education and scientific research ministry launched an investigation into the matter after the circulation on 16 August on social media of a voice recording during which the sale of certificates and seats in the masters programme is explained to a potential applicant.

The recording is that of a telephone call between a student who wished to obtain a Masters of Public Disputes law degree at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez and a ‘mediator’ or broker for one of the university staff who asked to receive a sum of MAD40,000 (US$4,200).

According to the recording, 35 students had already entered the masters programme by paying the requested bribe, leaving only five seats available to those who could also pay 40 thousand dirhams.

According to Morocco Post 24, the student was promised guaranteed selection into the course and “success in written and oral examinations”. The broker also noted in the recording that he had already mediated the entry to the course of a number of students from Meknes, Beni Mellal, Mysore and Outat El Haj.

In a statement issued the following day, the presidency of Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University said it had launched an investigation in coordination with the ministry of higher education and scientific research.

The university said it was “keen to ensure the conditions of transparency, objectivity and equal opportunity between all candidates in the process of masters registrations".

On 19 August, Moroccan security services arrested the broker believed to be involved in the call with the student, according to Hespress.

On 21 August, the executive office of Transparency Maroc, the local arm of global civil society organisation Transparency International, suspended Professor Abdullah Harisi who is the coordinator of the masters course over his alleged failure to investigate allegations of impropriety, according to local press reports. Harisi, who is assistant general secretary for the association, is apparently well-known for his anti-corruption activities.

Transparency Maroc said the temporary suspension of Harisi was in the context of "liberating him from the responsibility in the association" and allowing him the space to defend himself until the completion of the investigation and the determination of responsibilities as well as administrative or judicial discipline," according to Morocco Post 24.

The National Union of Moroccan Students’ President, Mohamed Bensassi, attributed the "corruption" in the Moroccan university to mismanagement, as well as pointing to systematic restrictions on the rights to higher education which were guaranteed by the constitution and other laws.

"This scandal is a manifestation of corruption in our universities without exception, where bribery, zealotry, nepotism and sometimes sexual extortion have become a basic rule in access to the masters and doctorate, instead of adopting the principle of merit that has become an exception to the rule within our university," Bensassi was quoted as saying by Hespress.

"This situation opens the door for some professors to manipulate the ambitions, dreams and hopes of students through bad practices," he said.

"Some immoral and illegal practices on campus would not have existed if the situation had been facilitated on the ground and governed by the principles of merit and equality of opportunity," Bensassi said.

Kamal Lafar, head of another student grouping, the Organization of Rnists Students, said cases of blackmail of students by some professors over enrolment in masters or doctoral programmes were “widespread” inside the Moroccan university and were “the responsibility of all the components of the university system".

"Such behaviour is sometimes accepted by the students after the professor's presentation, which is based on interests and lobbies rooted in the institution for years," Lafar said.

"We have demanded that the ministry of higher education set up a green telephone number to report university corruption, such as bribery, forgery, selling and buying university degrees,” he said.