Rabat – As more and more nations move to a post-industrial knowledge economy that is driven by information technology and professional service sector jobs, the need for post-secondary education that promotes portable and transferable skills will become critical.
Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani recently reassured the Moroccan public that the government has no plans to abandon free education in public institutions. He described media reports to the contrary as “completely untrue.”
The future for public higher education institutions in Morocco, on the other hand, likely includes inscription (enrollment) fees and other fees that may slightly resemble tuition. It is likely that family income will be a main determinant of just who pays how much. Any potential enrollment fees should be returned as investments in the higher education system – staff, learning resources, adjunct faculty from the business, arts and science communities. The public should welcome a new paradigm that creates obligations for the education system to serve students while also creating new expectations for students to better visualize their professional career in Moroccan society.
Morocco’s services sector accounts for half of the kingdom’s annual GDP. Many of these service sector jobs, from information technology consultants to marketing professionals, will become an increasingly important component of the kingdom’s economy. In many nations, there is excitement for the professional service sector and its role in creating jobs. This year for the first time, Moroccan tech startups will participate in the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the premier consumer technology trade show held in Las Vegas and a showcase of small-firm innovation. Maghreb Arab Press reported in October that Morocco had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China to establish an economic zone in Fez, primarily for professional or service sector initiatives.
The traditional mission of training Morocco’s civil servants, teachers and lawyers is going to continue but as the economy diversifies the university as private sector employee incubator will become critically important. Beyond the change that is required to meet new demands from a dynamic economy, partnering enrollment fees with new investments in higher education will help Moroccan public universities become even more invaluable public resources. As a byproduct, enrollment fees/tuition can create buy-in, a heightened sense of connection and obligation by faculty and students alike. Incurring some debt is a tradition for most American college students. It often creates stress, but it prepares students for a dynamic US economy where career change – planned and unplanned – is increasingly common.
In 2015, the Higher Council for Education Training and Scientific Research introduced a strategic vision roadmap that outlined the future for Moroccan schools. Equality in access, increased standards for education/teacher training curriculum, and increased support for vocational training were all main components of the new strategic vision. Admirable in that the plan sought to re-engage young people, particularly those from rural Morocco and those who are Amazigh in ancestry.
Large American land-grant public universities faced similar challenges related to affordability, cost, workforce development and public duty in the wake of the Great Recession (2007-09). Beyond the unpopular practice of raising tuition and other programming fees, these institutions gradually expanded innovative programs that may also find meaning in Morocco. Citizens are more supportive of increases in enrollment fees, tuition hikes and other payments when they perceive that there are direct benefits for the student and their respective community. Some of the post-recession priorities of public higher education include:
- Public-private partnerships – The connections between academics and vocation (jobs) have been getting stronger in the US since the Great Recession (2007-09). Employers want and need college graduates with required skills, from literature majors who can write compelling and coherent content to landscape architects who are as comfortable with GIS software as they are in the field. Many journalism students in American universities do internships at local media outlets to gain experience and insight from working journalists. MBA students can participate in the management of market funds to better understand market investment and fund management. Real world experience. A 2016 PayScale survey of hiring managers in the US found 60% of the managers believe newly hired graduates within their organizations do not have sufficient critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Job skill competency and workforce development are high priorities for the Moroccan government, too.
- Inside-Outside classroom experience – From lawyers who lecture regularly in law schools to retired government officials who lead policy issue seminars for public policy students, interacting with practitioners from the non-academic world gives students a sense of how their studies relate to real-world situations. During graduate school, one of my professors was a retired US Foreign Service officer. His homework assignments required students to write three-page memorandums on a given issue, not a twenty-page research thesis. It introduced me to concepts like brevity and rapid decision-making.
- Community connections – How does the university serve the people and the community beyond turning out college graduates? That question faces every college and university in the US, particularly public institutions that require state government aid. Bringing academic knowledge into the community, town and duar is critically important to create a sense of value in the view of the general public as well as a sense of citizenship among young graduates. It’s not just about getting “that job.” Since higher education is free for a majority of young Moroccan college students, engaged citizenship should also be an expectation. Student-led and university-led field research exist across Morocco. Regularizing engagement efforts in diverse fields like land use, public health outreach and micro-enterprise development creates strong bonds between academia and regular citizens.
The American model need not be seen as a default template. According to the College Board, the average total cost of one year at an American public university for an in-state student is $20,090 ($9,000 for tuition alone). Additionally, American students rely on college loans (government-funded and private loans). Though many students are eligible for academic scholarships and tuition discounts that reduce the final cost significantly, 44 million Americans held $1.3 trillion in student debt last year. But college is worth the costs: the average starting salary for new American college graduates is now $49,700. The high per capita income levels of college graduates help promote home ownership and a broad middle class.
Morocco’s tradition of free university education is a noble endeavor, nurturing a modest middle class of administrative civil servants, teachers and community leaders. Importantly, it’s also a cornerstone of national pride and cohesion. Students from around the world come to study at Mohammad V University in Rabat and Cady Ayyad University in Marrakech. The diversity that exists in many Moroccan universities is one of great attributes of the kingdom’s higher education system. Those legacies can be maintained while acknowledging that there are drawbacks to nearly unlimited free higher education in an era where Morocco’s growing economy is increasingly tied to the economies of nations where private enterprise is the largest driver of job creation.
The good news: an increasing number of the new jobs being created in Morocco, from IT to tourism management to automotive sector light manufacturing, require vocational education (1-2 years of post-lycee training, or less). New legislation that will provide several thousand dirhams in scholarship support to student trainees in the National Office for Vocational Training and Promotion (OFPPT) is the kind of critical support that students and families need. The current Al Akhawayn University strategic plan describes broad expectations for students that feature personal characteristics like “communication, collaboration, open-mindedness, proactivity, and professional curiosity.” Indeed, required skills for students and university administrators alike.
Connecting higher education to workforce development is priority challenge for nations across the globe. Navigating the transition to a more competitive and fee-based higher education system will pay dividends in the future. Scholarships are wonderful and provide an opportunity that previously may not have existed. Equally important in the new economy is cost sharing, public-private partnerships and academic innovation. Supporting student success beyond the classroom.