A plan by the Moroccan Ministry of Higher Education that would, among other things, bump up the number of years required to earn a bachelor’s degree from three to four years has stirred up opposition among both students and professors.
The plan was supposed to be implemented this academic year, but has been delayed by a year.
Morocco is one of the few Arab countries to have made many changes in its educational system in recent years. The changes the higher education ministry is now proposing would include a requirement for students to master English and would include in the new four-year undergraduate program a preparatory year to give students the knowledge and skills to succeed in the last three years of their education. The four-year degree is similar to the academic system followed in several other Arab countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and some Gulf countries.
But these proposed changes are drawing a lot of opposition from those who feel that other longstanding needs for reforms—including higher pay for professors—are being neglected.
The proposed reforms came in an attempt to improve the quality of university education and the quality of students graduating from universities in the kingdom, according to Saeed Amzazi, Minister of Education and Higher Education and Vocational Training. “We are working to develop the university educational system in line with education in the U.S., which is characterized by openness and flexibility,” he said in a press briefing. “This will give students greater opportunities to develop skills and gain experiences during their study.”
Many believe that Morocco’s university system needs adjustments.
In a telephone interview, Abdelkader Lachkar, a member of Morocco’s National Syndicate for Higher Education and Scientific Research, a union for academics, said “there is a consensus among all the actors and those concerned with the higher education and scientific research system that there are several imbalances in the current educational system.” He said that the most important of these imbalances was the weak output of the Moroccan university education system, namely its graduates. That, he said, is reflected in the high unemployment rate, which is now at 18.9 percent. In addition, 16.5 percent of newly enrolled students quit their university studies after their first year. The proportion of students leaving the university without obtaining a degree is 47 percent.
Some put the blame for the high drop-out rate on Morocco’s schools and on policy confusion, including confusion about which language to teach which subject in. University students also struggle with such basics as transportation and finding housing near universities. (See two related articles, “The Latest in Language Confusion: Morocco Switches Back from Arabic to French” and “Finding a Place to Sleep—a Challenge for Moroccan Students.”)
Still, the proposed new educational system is widely criticized by university professors who say they weren’t included in developing the idea and are worried that it will fail if their recommendations are not considered.
“There are points that must have been taken into account before making the decision,” said Lachkar. “If they are not taken into account, the new amendment will end in failure.”
Before modifying university education, Lachkar says, the country needs to look at reforming the schools that are preparing students for university.
“There are points that must have been taken into account before making the decision, If they are not taken into account, the new amendment will end in failure.”Abdelkader Lachkar
A member of Morocco’s National Syndicate for Higher Education and Scientific Research
“A preparatory year has been put in place in the new system in an attempt to bridge the gaps created by the school educational system that does not sufficiently qualify students for university study,” he said. “This includes properly mastering English. It was necessary to solve the school education problem first and not to amend the university system for this purpose.”
Labor Market vs. Intellectual Development
In turn, Abdelhafid Adminou, head of the Department of Public Law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat, believes that the new system focuses on labor market needs and qualifies students with skills that suit these needs without considering developing students intellectually and culturally.
“The new system turns the university into a ‘technical institute’ that makes the university lose its role in creating an intellectual elite,” he said.
Last February, Morocco’s National Syndicate for Higher Education and Scientific Research asked for time to develop ideas for creating a competitive educational system in higher education with the broad participation of interested parties. The syndicate boycotted the national meeting that was held in the same month to discuss the new educational system proposed by the Ministry of Higher Education. It said that if professors participated in the meeting they could wind up legitimizing the ministry’s predetermined conclusions.
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The Ministry of Education, on the other hand, appears to have postponed the changes until next year in part to contain controversy and also because it was busy responding to the coronavirus pandemic, adopting distance education for students in locked down areas where new infections are high.
Much of the objection to the proposed new changes is coming from educators who say the success of any new system should be based on supporting professors. “The new system places new responsibilities on professors, without taking into account their living conditions and professional needs,” said a visiting professor at Hassan I Public University’s Faculty of Law in Settat.
The minimum salary for a professor at a Moroccan public university is about $1,500 a month, with top pay not exceeding $3,000, according to the law professor who wanted to withhold his name to avoid any retaliation from the university administration. The professor believes that the increase in wages should be a cornerstone of the new educational system, “otherwise it will not succeed.”
The average annual income per capita in Morocco is about $3,000, according to the latest World Bank statistics.
The salaries of university professors in Morocco are among the lowest compared to their counterparts in the Arab world, according to a 2014 Al-Fanar Media study. (See a related article: “A Survey of Public-University Professors’ Pay”) Over the past two years, Morocco has witnessed many protests by professors demanding an improvement in their working conditions and salaries, but little has changed, professors say. “We are not against the reform, yet there are other priorities that must be taken into account,” said the visiting professor, who has been less than a year in his post.
As for Adminou, he says that the new system is an ambitious reform that “requires an increase in the financial allocations for educators with an increase in the number of promotions, and a greater interaction with the demands of teachers, especially as reducing the number of students in the classroom will place a greater burden on the teachers.” Many Moroccan professors are used to only giving lectures and exams and will need to adjust to working with small groups and assigning exercises and projects.
Students are also critical of the proposed new educational system, and they also feel they were not included in the planning.
“The new system was put in place singlehandedly by the ministry,” said Mustafa Al-Alawi, 27, vice president of the Student Renewal Movement (Organisation du Renouveau Estudiantin au Maroc, founded in 2003 by students to advocate for student and youth affairs.) in a telephone interview. He said that the previous university system did
“The new system was put in place singlehandedly by the ministry.”Mustafa Al-Alawi
Vice president of the Student Renewal Movement
not achieve good results for many reasons, including its method of accrediting universities, which was highly centralized, like its way of introducing the recent reforms.
Although many Moroccans involved in education seem to agree on the need for change, they disagree on how best to begin. Professors warn against following the same process for implementing reforms that Morocco has used in higher education in recent times, and they believe that the involvement of a broader spectrum of university professors is necessary for the proposed new changes to achieve their goals.
“The reform model that is implemented through horizontal government decisions, without involving the [university] structures and university professors as part of this reform plan ends in failure,” said Adminou, from Mohammed V University in Rabat. “The Ministry of Higher Education has called for more discussions and meetings with professors, responding to their demands in a more positive way, and recognizing that the new system will only succeed when these just demands are met.”