Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- Morocco has persistent quality issues in its public higher education system, which encourages many students to study in private institutions or branch campuses or to study abroad (mostly in France)
- Along with France, Canada and China are becoming more interested in recruiting Moroccan students or cooperating in joint initiatives
- To address high levels of youth unemployment, the Moroccan government is pushing hard on a major project to increase funding for and access to vocational education in the country
Ever more, universities and colleges looking to diversify their student populations are considering countries with populations in which youth make up significant proportions. Morocco certainly fits the bill: people under the age of 25 make up nearly half (47%) of this Muslim-majority nation’s population of 36.5 million.
Pervasive quality issues
The presence of so many young people begs the question of how much capacity and quality there is in Morocco’s education system, and the answer is: not enough. The World Economic Forum ranked Morocco 120th out of 137 countries for the quality of its education system in 2017/18, though in more positive news the proportion of secondary school-aged students enrolled in high schools has jumped from 69% in 2012 to 80% in 2018.
At the tertiary level, students face serious challenges: Moroccan education ministry data show that two in three students enrolled at one of the country’s 14 public universities are failing to complete their studies, and a major cause of this is that they are not sufficiently proficient in French.
At first glance this seems odd, since French is so often the language of business and government (despite the country’s official languages being Arabic and Amazigh, or Berber). But a political movement devoted to increasing the use of Arabic in primary school has seen science and math courses taught in Arabic until secondary school for the past three decades – despite the fact that these subjects are taught in French in the country’s universities. A draft law was passed this past summer to reintroduce French as the language of instruction for science, math, and technical subjects in primary and intermediate school, but this proposal is meeting with serious opposition.
Whatever the fate of the draft legislation, the fact remains that many university students are not prepared for studies at the tertiary level. To make matters worse, overcrowding in university classrooms is a major issue, and universities are facing huge deficits in terms of equipment and especially teachers.
Demand for alternatives
Ambitious students who are able to pay for higher education at a private university or at a branch campus or joint programme offered by a foreign university are doing so, and there are large numbers of Moroccans who opt to study abroad as well, primarily in France. In 2017, there were 38,000 Moroccans enrolled in France, making up 43% of France’s international student population and representing a 17% increase over the ten years from 2007 to 2016.
More broadly, the latest UNESCO data indicates there were more than 51,000 Moroccan students abroad in 2018, the great majority in France but also several thousand in Europe (e.g., Germany, Italy, Spain), Canada, and the US.
China extending its reach
China has shown great interest in recent years in Morocco as a North African hub for its overall presence on the continent. Given China’s strategy in other African countries – which is to invest heavily in improving access to education students in these countries as a pillar of its overall investment – we can expect to see more news of China funding Moroccan education initiatives. Already:
- China has invested US$1 billion in the “Mohamed VI Tangier Tech City,” an industrial hub near Tangiers, whose goal is to create 100,000 jobs for Moroccans.
- Earlier this year, China agreed to provide Morocco millions of dollars for information and communication technology and education projects.
- Morocco and China have announced a joint academic institute in Morocco specifically devoted to studying China’s Belt and Road. The two universities participating are China’s Ningxia University and Morocco’s Hassan I University.
- In 2016, Morocco lifted the requirement for Chinese visitors to have a visa to enter the country, with the effect that in the first five months of 2018, Morocco received 120,000 Chinese tourists, compared to 43,000 in 2016 – a tripling in two years.
- The Chinese government has announced a goal of encouraging more Moroccans to study in China.
Canada making it easier for Moroccans
In Canada, there are 2,800 Moroccans in Canadian higher education institutions, and this is a figure that will likely grow given the government’s announcement this fall that Moroccan students are now eligible for Canada’s expedited visa processing system.
Opportunities in vocational education
When youth unemployment in Morocco reached an all-time high of nearly 30% in 2017, the government was instructed by the King to develop a new trajectory for the country based on more locally attuned education and vocational training programmes geared at creating more jobs.
Between 2018 and 2019, the number of scholarships the Moroccan government provided to vocational students increased by 177%. And between 2015 and 2018, 27 new vocational training institutes were established.
As well as vocational training, particularly for auto, textiles, and metal industries, there is high demand for graduates with master’s degrees, especially in IT.
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