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Moroccan Academics Protest Plan to Give Ministry More Control

Moroccan academics have organized protests against a draft law that would give the Ministry of Higher Education powers to control public university lecturers’ wages, benefits and privileges, and to intervene in their teaching and research.

“The new draft law establishes a contracting system to regulate the relationship between professors and their university, subjecting it to the logic of the market and privatization in a way that undermines the principle of academic freedom and the independence of scholars,” said Jaouad Rabaa, a member of the National Office for the independent Karama (“Dignity”) Coordination of Research Professors, in a phone call.

Rabaa, a professor of political science and constitutional law at the University of Ibn Zohr in Agadir, explained that the draft law granted “supreme” authority to the university’s administrative body and the ministry to control teachers’ financial benefits and work privileges.

Academics would be “employed under the tutelage of the university president, who is neither elected nor accountable to the University Council,” he said.

The bill also grants the Ministry of Higher Education powers to amend the curricula and intervene in research professors’ work, says Rabaa.

He said curriculum design is the “exclusive” competence of the teacher, and warned that if it became law, the bill would limit academic freedom.

The bill would also make the relationship between teachers and universities a contract for a period of up to one year, subject to renewal. Academic promotions would no longer be decided by a committee chosen by the heads of university institutions but by the ministry.

No Response to Professors’ Protests

The Ministry of Higher Education has not yet made any official reply to the teachers’ protests, which have included several vigils outside the ministry. Previous ministerial statements have said the aim of the bill was to improve teachers’ financial conditions.

The Karama Coordination, in a statement made available to Al-Fanar Media, declared its “complete” rejection of the bill. It called for a “just and stimulating” system that achieves a real increase in the wages of academics, and motivates them to play positive roles within the higher education and scientific research.

Many Moroccan academics agree on the need to reform the system that has regulated their relations with the university for 25 years, but they believe that the proposed amendments impose new restrictions on their academic freedom and do not meet their real needs, especially with regard to wages.

“The university professor bears very large workloads; teaching, conducting research and administrative work. What he gets does not match the effort he makes or the requirements of a decent life.”

Noureddine El-Faqih
A law professor at Abdelmalek Essaadi University, in Tetouan

The minimum monthly wage for a lecturer in Morocco’s public universities is about $1,500, and the maximum does not exceed $3,000, while the average annual per capita income in Morocco is about $3,000, according to the latest available statistics from the World Bank.

The wages of university  teachers in Morocco have been among the lowest compared to their counterparts in the Arab region, a 2014 survey conducted by Al-Fanar Media. (See a related article, “A Survey of Public-University Professors’ Pay.”)

Over the past two years, Moroccan academics have organized many protests to demand improvement of their conditions, but they say they have not received an adequate response. (See a related article, Morocco’s Planned Reforms for Undergraduate Education Stir Broad Opposition.”)

In a phone call, Noureddine El-Faqih, a law professor at Abdelmalek Essaadi University, in Tetouan, deemed the current statute “unfair.”

“The university professor bears very large workloads; teaching, conducting research and administrative work,” El-Faqih said. “What he gets does not match the effort he makes or the requirements of a decent life.”

Proposed Wage Increases

The proposed wage increases range from $165 to $385, but the highest amount applies only to “higher education professors,” the rank a researcher obtains a few years before retirement.

While some academics are in favor of continuing protests to achieve their demands, the official syndicate representing research professors seeks to wait for the response of the Ministry of Higher Education.

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Last month, the National Council of the Moroccan Syndicate of Higher Education and Scientific Research issued a statement containing proposals, reservations, and notes on the draft law.

The protesters’ most prominent demands are to abandon the contracting system, maintain the promotion system according to existing law, and to consider distance education as a complementary method for face-to-face education when necessary.

The syndicate expressed its readiness to implement a “struggle” program to support the academics’ protests, in case the ministry delays in responding to their “just” demands.

“We hope to get a positive response from the ministry after we conveyed the comments and criticisms of professors to them during previous meetings,” Abdelkader Lachkar, a member of the syndicate’s National Council, said in a phone call.

But he acknowledged that if the government passes the law despite the syndicate’s opposition, “there is no legal opportunity to stop them.”


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