HE Internationalisation – Challenges and future prospects

The internationalisation of education is no longer a goal in itself, but a means for improving the quality of education and an entry into competitiveness in a rapidly changing world. Internationalisation is having a great impact on the domain of education led by globalisation.

Among the frequently cited definitions of the concept, Jane Knight (2004) views internationalisation as “the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education”. The use of the term ‘process’, as the author claims, conveys the ‘ongoing’ and ‘evolutionary’ or ‘developmental’ aspect of the concept.

Internationalisation, both as a concept and a process, is still not widespread in Moroccan public institutions. It is, however, taking place in private institutions and among the researchers who are involved in international programmes and networks.

Higher education challenges

Of the challenges facing the internationalisation of higher education in Morocco, the language issue stands on top. Until recently, the debate concerned the language of instruction of sciences. The Arabisation process – the hasty adoption of Modern Standard Arabic as the language of teaching instead of French – has had negative effects on the quality of education.

In addition, the fact of not generalising Arabisation to higher education has created a divide between pre-secondary education and higher education, and put a heavy burden on the latter.

Until the end of the 1980s, higher education in Morocco was state-controlled, but this has changed since the 1990s as privatisation has increased during the last decades.

Public higher education in Morocco operates at two different levels between the limited and open access institutions. The situation is very worrying in open access institutions which receive 80% of the students. Public universities are facing a huge influx of students accompanied by shortages in infrastructure, funding, equipment and human resources.

Many reforms have been undertaken (2003, 2007, 2009, 2012) but without any assessment of the situation or involvement of the teachers. Most of them involved policy-makers and relied on the adjustment of the local system to international norms. The solutions adopted were not applicable to the Moroccan context.

Despite these issues, Moroccan universities attract many students from different countries, especially African ones, for the limited access institutions (medicine, pharmacy, engineering, technology and others), as well as from Asian and Arab countries, mainly at the doctoral level in social and human sciences.

Universities are also involved in many international research programmes such as Erasmus KA1, Erasmus KA2 and Horizon 2020, and student and staff mobility programmes. However, these programmes face some challenges, as discussed below.

Language and other challenges to internationalisation

The main challenges facing the internationalisation of higher education include both incoming and outgoing mobility. Concerning the former, the language of instruction and research, the grading system, the non-internationalisation of the curricula, and the absence of infrastructure are the main challenges. In the case of the latter, the financial management of funds, proficiency in foreign languages in general, and English in particular, are a real hindrance.

Considering language, using Arabic and-or French reduces the opportunities for mobility both for the students and the teaching and administrative staff from and to Morocco. Internationalisation is more commonly associated with the English language. This also represents a challenge for incoming mobility.

The grading system is another issue for student mobility. The credit system has still not been adopted in Morocco, which impedes the transfer of credits.

The nature of the curricula, which do not adopt an international perspective and do not meet the international standards, also represent a real difficulty. Teaching methods and the limited use of the new technologies, and methods of assessment and evaluation put the international students in difficult situations.

The absence of infrastructure, especially regarding university residences, is a problem. International students find it difficult to live on campus, forcing them to rent off-campus accommodation. There are problems with the services offered at university level as not all institutions have an international office with well-informed staff.

The financial management of funds for research projects, particularly in relation to money transfers, student and staff awards, and the purchase of equipment involve high degrees of bureaucracy and require the payment of taxes that sometimes block the projects.

Future perspectives

Despite the aforementioned challenges, several professors are involved in international research projects through their international networks. Due to the stability of the country, mobility towards Morocco has increased, especially after the Middle East and North African uprisings which started in 2010-11.

The international ambitions of Morocco to open itself to the world require it to strengthen its attractiveness to researchers, doctoral and post-doctoral students. The Ministry of Education should develop a common model for the management of internationalisation in higher education to improve the implementation and evaluation of the process and guarantee the sustainability of the international dimension.

A national cooperation platform will help to establish an inventory of the projects, agreements and memoranda of understanding, and a databank of mobility opportunities. This will facilitate an evaluation of programme relevance, and an assessment of the degree of internationalisation in Moroccan universities.

Moroccan universities should also develop new cooperation projects with foreign partners germane to higher education and research. They should establish mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the cooperation projects and ensuring the effective participation of Moroccan institutions in the various programmes through continuous training of staff in charge of the management of cooperation projects.

Universities should also enhance the attractiveness of the Moroccan degree programmes for international students and improve incoming mobility through an increase in the number of courses in English, especially at the masters level.

Finally, the Moroccan Ministry of Education should insist on the integration of ICT in higher education so as to meet the current challenges and align with international standards. This will also improve the quality of training and governance, and the employability of graduates.

Yamina El Kirat El Allame is a national and international adviser and consultant in the field of higher education. She is the former vice-dean for research and cooperation and the director of the Doctoral Studies Centre at the faculty of letters and human sciences of Mohammed V University of Rabat, Morocco.