Universities turn to dual mode to enhance HE access
The first two virtual universities will be opened next academic year at the University of Ibn Tofail in Kénitra and the University of Ibn Zohr in Agadir, to serve as a model to be adopted or replicated at other public universities in Morocco.
The virtual universities project was unveiled by Moroccan Secretary of State to the Minister of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, Khalid Al Samadi, according to a 22 February news report published by Alyaoum 24.
The virtual universities project is the first step in implementing the Morocco digital transformation strategy which aims at improving access to the internet, reducing the digital divide by 50%, promoting the development of digital professionals and positioning Morocco as a digital hub in French-speaking Africa.
The virtual universities will use a blended learning approach, combining traditional classroom lectures and online courses as recommended by a 2018 journal paper on MOOCs (massive open online courses) which argued for the adoption of “a blended learning approach that combines both online and face-to-face experiences to optimise learning in Moroccan higher education”.
Higher education in context
Morocco’s higher education institutions currently suffer from severe overcrowding, lack of infrastructure and a shortage of professors. According to a report published last year by the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research (SCETSR), which calls for the digitisation of higher education, the student to staff ratio is 173, 87 and 35 students per teacher in law, arts and social studies, and scientific studies respectively.
The SCETSR report indicated that about 54% of students drop out, particularly in the country’s 56 public open-access institutions (attended by 88% of the country’s students) where there is low pedagogical supervision in relation to the number of students.
According to the report a university seat is available for every 211 students for open-access institutions, and a seat for every 67 students in universities with limited access.
The dual university proposal has been welcomed in some quarters.
“Converting Morocco’s traditional universities to dual mode universities by offering their programmes of study through conventional and distance education will increase university intake, enhance universal education and extend the use of university resources to eligible and interested people who cannot pursue full-time courses and programmes at the university campus,” higher education expert Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid at Cairo’s National Research Centre, Egypt, told University World News.
Hamza Alfrmawi, an ICT expert at the Islamic Development Bank Alumni and Science Development Network, also welcomed the development, but emphasised the importance of adopting best practice as a means of reducing challenges.
“Morocco’s virtual universities must not start from scratch but should adopt best practices from national and regional North African open universities, namely, the Open University of Sudan, the Open University Libya, the Virtual University of Tunis, the National Egyptian E-Learning University, Djibouti's e-campus, the Open University of Mauritania and the Arab Open University,” Alfrmawi told University World News.
“However, it remains to be seen how Morocco’s virtual universities project will face online learning challenges which already exist in the North Africa region,” Alfrmawi added.
Such challenges include internet provision and infrastructure, along with attitudes as many in the region are wary of distance education and distrust such degrees, even from state-sponsored institutions, he said.
Other challenges include high attrition rates and Arabic content problem along with lack of scientific and systematic procedures for quality assurance. “Other barriers include limited communication services, weak strategic planning, and the absence of government policies,” Alfrmawi said.
Although 62% of Moroccans had access to the internet in December 2017 according to Internet World Stats, the country’s 2016 network readiness index was relatively low, ranking 78th out of 139, according to the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index. Morocco also ranks 65th out of 79 in the 2018 Global Connectivity Index.