For many of the Moroccan students who were in Ukraine when Russia invaded the country on February 24, aspirations suddenly shifted from acquiring an education to escaping the war. Now, as hundreds of them have managed to return to Morocco, their focus changes again to the fate of their academic future. The answer is not clear.
Salma Tiskanani is one of those who fled. When she enrolled at Kharkiv National Medical University, in eastern Ukraine, a year ago, she never expected that she would be forced to run from bombs before finishing her first year.
“I had to leave Kharkiv on the third day of the war, without planning or preparation,” Tiskanani told Al-Fanar Media. “I broke my left leg in a stampede on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.”
She left behind her travel documents with the university administration, which made her escape journey tougher at the borders.
Manal El-Hossi, a dental student at Dnipro State Medical University, in eastern Ukraine, also decided to flee in search of safety. She was with a group that traveled from Dnipro to the Polish border. In cold snowy weather, they had to walk more than 40 kilometers of the journey.
In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, El-Hossi said that while passing through the city of Lviv, the students were subjected to what she described as “racist acts.”
While students know nothing about their educational future, El-Hossi said that the university’s administration had informed them that studies would be suspended until mid-March.
“I had to leave Kharkiv on the third day of the war, without planning or preparation. I broke my left leg in a stampede on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.”Salma Tiskanani
A first-year student at the Kharkiv State Medical University
Too Much at Stake to Leave
On the other hand, some students chose to stay in Ukraine, despite the danger. Younis Zuhair, a fifth-year student at the National University of Pharmacy, in Kharkiv, is among them.
Zuhair said he is still uncertain about whether he made the right decision, but he felt too much was at stake to leave.
“If I leave Ukraine, all my five-year dreams at university will be gone,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “This is my last academic year before graduation. I was about to regularise my permanent residence status in Ukraine. For me, leaving would be a grave loss.”
As bombings continue in Kharkiv, Zuhair seeks shelter each night in subway stations, “despite their being overcrowded and lacking appropriate conditions.”
He suffers from other war consequences of the war, too, such as a lack of supplies and safe drinking water. As for the future of his education, he said the university had told students to suspend their studies for two months as an emergency leave.
Families Worry Back Home
In Morocco, families also worry about the ambiguity of their children’s academic future. Some families have created social media groups to discuss their fears and share information.
Ms. Assia, a Moroccan mother whose son studies in Ukraine, said the families are constantly discussing how to help students come back and how to make up for the forced halt of their studies. “The families are seeking to organise themselves within a legal framework to communicate with the Moroccan government, to solve the problem of the academic future of the affected students,” she said.
Tarek Macman, vice president of the Moroccan Association of Graduates of Former Soviet Universities and Institutes, estimates there are around 12,000 Moroccan students at Ukrainian universities. Macman thinks the priority now is to help students leave Ukraine, and then talk about how to secure their academic future in coordination with the relevant ministries.
“A ministerial crisis cell is currently working on providing solutions to these students’ situation. This is an exceptional crisis we have never experienced before. It needs exceptional and effective solutions.”Mohamed Tahiri
An official with Morocco’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
For his part, Abdellatif Miraoui, the Moroccan Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, assured the returning students that their country would help them complete their studies. The ministry has launched an online platform to create a list of the affected students, with the aim of monitoring their specialisations and university levels.
More than 3,900 students have already registered on the platform, according to Mohamed Tahiri, director of higher education and educational development at the ministry. Most of them study medical sciences, besides a small number of architecture and engineering students.
“A ministerial crisis cell is currently working on providing solutions to these students’ situation,” Tahiri told Al-Fanar Media. “This is an exceptional crisis we have never experienced before. It needs exceptional and effective solutions.”
Absorbing Returnees into Moroccan Higher Education
On ways to absorb students returning from Ukraine into Moroccan higher education, Tahiri said the cases of each student will be studied separately.
Experts from the ministry will process the students’ data on the online platform, he said, taking into account the students’ educational gains, which qualifies them to take assessment tests, study their levels and language abilities, to enable them to complete their studies without problems.
Tahiri also explained that the ministry will communicate with Ukrainian universities regarding the students’ future. The ministry is currently working on getting an accurate count of the number of Moroccan students in Ukraine.
The degrees obtained from abroad need equivalency from the Moroccan ministry, Tahiri added. Those who are going to practice medicine will also need a license from the Physicians Authority.
Mohamed Faquiri, head of the Moroccan Association of Graduates of Former Soviet Universities and Institutes, welcomed the ministry’s efforts to integrate returning students into Moroccan higher education.
He told Al-Fanar Media that this is “a very complex and difficult process, because there is a big difference in the curricula, and in the mechanisms applied at Ukrainian and Moroccan universities.”
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