Student death at sea highlights education crisis

Outcry after a student was killed by the Moroccan navy during an illegal migration journey at sea has highlighted the ongoing emigration by young Moroccans in search of a better education and living standards in Europe.

After Hayat Belkacem (22) – a female law student at the faculty of legal, economic and social sciences at Abdelmalek Essaâdi University in Martil in Morocco – died on 25 September, thousands of students marched through the streets of Martil in protest.

Three other passengers were wounded when the navy opened fire on the speedboat transporting immigrants to Spain through Mediterranean waters near Morocco.

At her funeral, she was hailed as a “martyr of secret immigration”.

A leading academic, Mohamed Daadaoui, professor of political science at Oklahoma City University in the United States and author of Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge, told University World News that Moroccan students had bleak prospects for employment and advancement, even with a degree, and “see dangerous clandestine migration to Europe as a way to escape those dismal socio-economic prospects”.

He added that the issue was “complex and not in the hands of universities alone. It has to be a political remedy that seeks to promote meaningful socio-economic reforms and ends corruption and political abuse of power.”

Student union reaction

Pointing fingers at the government, the National Union of Moroccan Students (NUMS) said: “The new framework law that knocked the last nail in the coffin of education, by cancelling free higher education … has led to high rates of secret migration among youth through the death boats to escape poverty and unemployment.”

Morocco was at the top of the list of illegal migration from African countries through Spain, according to official figures for the first half of the year. Moroccans accounted for 17%, followed by Guinea (2.7%), Mali (2.2%), Côte d’Ivoire (1.1%) and Gambia (1.03%), according to a report in Morocco World News.

The number of unemployed university graduates was more than 22%, a figure that had doubled over the last five years and was expected to reach 50% in the coming years, according to an August news report.

In addition, Moroccan job portal ReKrute found that 91% of young Moroccan professionals aged 35 and below wanted to work abroad. This was further outlined in another report.

NUMS said Belkacem’s death came in the context of problems surrounding Moroccan university students, including difficulties imposed by administrations when students tried to register at universities in Morocco in general – particularly Abdelmalek Essaâdi University – and the increasing cost of transport and accommodation along with countless pedagogical problems.

‘Difficulties for African students’

Education experts spoke to University World News about the ongoing emigration.

University of Burundi Doctoral School Director Juma Shabani said: “This situation reflects … difficulties [African students] are facing in finding decent jobs or opportunities for self-employment.”

Also commenting, UNESCO Science Prize laureate and former Pakistan federal science and technology minister Atta-ur-Rahman said: “No wonder our brightest talent is forced to migrate to the West … the key to progress lies in developing a strong knowledge economy. It is time for us to invest massively in higher education, science, technology and innovation.”

A recent Gallup survey indicated that as a result of socio-economic challenges and political instability, the desire to migrate was highest among young, better educated Africans in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. In 2017, 40% of North African graduates said they wanted to migrate, up from 36% in 2016.

Universities must reform curricula

Asked about the role of North African universities in combatting academic migration, Gallup analyst Julie Ray told University World News that “the availability of good jobs … is vital to retention. For higher education institutions, their part of the equation is providing an education that aligns students with the type of jobs available and for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Expanding further, Shabani, also a former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, said: “Universities in Africa should accelerate curricula reforms to better align training programmes with the needs of the world of work and to promote youth entrepreneurship.”

Science and technology expert Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, based at Cairo’s National Research Centre, told University World News: “The African Union’s African Observatory for Migration and Development that will be based in Rabat must coordinate migration policies across African states and cooperate with African universities in preparing and implementing a higher education strategic plan to produce self-employed graduates and industry-oriented and labour-market ready graduates.”

According to Stephen Owusu Kwankye, associate professor at the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana, the solution would be through democratic governance. He told University World News that leaders had to demonstrate “commitment towards … providing economic opportunities to all”.