European focus for Morocco reforms

January 16, 2004

Morocco's universities are in the first year of far-reaching reforms that aim to bring them into line with Europe and offer students increased flexibility.

While welcoming the changes, lecturers believe they will do little to tackle persistent problems of underfunding and overcrowding.

Some 80,000 students began their studies under the regime this year, in which old-style subjects, departments and trimesters make way for credits, modularisation, semesters and interdisciplinary courses.

Students may enrol on courses at three or four departments. Across the country's 17 universities, 70 per cent of modules are standardised, making it easier for students to leave university and resume their studies later.

Use of modules and a credit-based system will make it easier for students to transfer between departments and institutions. Revision of curricula has allowed new subjects, such as English language and management, to be introduced across the board.

Khalid Alioua, higher education minister, said Morocco's reforms were not directly inspired by the Bologna process, which aims to create a unified higher education area in Europe.

But he said: "When we decided to give students the opportunity to move not only within the system but also into the international system, we decided to move closer to the European model."

Mr Alioua said: "We need to make better use of our resources, and we need to use the higher education system to help meet the needs of the economy."

About 45 per cent of students take more than twice the standard period of four years to get a first degree, and some take longer.

A degree is not a passport to a job in Morocco; urban unemployment stands at 21 per cent and graduates account for a disproportionate number.

Under the reforms, more practical content is being introduced into all degrees and a professional degree is being launched. This will provide vocational qualifications aimed at emerging sectors of the economy and will concentrate on developing practical problem-solving skills.

Moussa Kerzazi, a lecturer in geography at Rabat, said that most academics welcomed the reforms, and he was generally optimistic about their progress, but pessimistic about the prospect of gaining extra resources or tackling overcrowding.

Student numbers grew by 3.2 per cent in 2003-04. The authorities are unlikely to take the politically unpopular move of limiting access. Mr Kerzazi and colleagues planned for 100 first-years this year, but 250 enrolled. "We cannot give practical classes to two groups of 125 students each," he said.

While Mr Alioua claims funding rose by 7 per cent this year, Mr Kerzazi said there were problems getting hold of basics such as photocopies or a working internet connection.

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