Cost-Sharing: A Threat to Higher Education in Morocco

Abdessamad Saidi

Fez - Historically speaking, Moroccan universities have a long tradition with the Qarawiyyin University, founded in the 9th century. After the colonial era, a pattern of growth in Moroccan universities began with the duplication of the colonial model (same curricula, same system of evaluation, same language of instruction). This pattern did not last longer after the colonial era as the state introduced Arabization and Moroccanization policies. These policies aimed to restructure the system of higher education by training Moroccan administrative staff who were supposed to replace their French expatriates. At that time, this was the main mission of higher education in Morocco. However, with the new open access policies, which guarantee free access to all baccalaureate holders (and even to those without a baccalaureate degree), higher education in Morocco acquired a new mission of absorbing the growing numbers of secondary school graduates and “preparing them for second rate employment at best and unemployment at worst” Ouakrime (2003).

Open Access Policy in Moroccan Higher Education

After the introduction of the open access policy, which guarantees education for all as one of the tenets of social justice, the pressure of student numbers that result from population growth led the government to introduce more stringent selection procedures (minimum grades in major subjects, competitive examination). In accordance with this, Ait Si Mhamed (2004) argues that the crisis of higher education in Morocco originated from open access policies which led to a rapid expansion of enrollment at universities and to the adoption of selection procedures. These restrictions placed on access to higher education led to the development of, what Ouakrime (2003) calls, a “dual system of higher education,” composed of general higher education (supposed to absorb the growing number of baccalaureate holders) and specialized higher education (which enjoys a highly favorable staff-student ratio and an adequate number of teaching and learning resources).

The results of this dual-system are devastating. Due to the restrictions, many students with a baccalaureate certificate find themselves compelled to join technical institutions (such as ITA, ISTA) which are relatively accessible, though students must pay an annual fee ranging between 700dhs and 800dhs to complete their registration. Other students who face obstacles joining public universities have no choice but to resort to private institutions which forces their parents to carry the burden of paying the education fees.

All these changes in the nature of higher education in Morocco are motivated by financial reasons. The main reason behind these changes is the governments adoption of a cost-sharing policy.

Cost-Sharing in Moroccan Higher Education

Cost-sharing is a “shift of the burden of higher education costs from being totally borne by the government or the taxpayer, to being shared with parents and students” Ait Si Mhamed (2004: 4). According to the author, the adoption of the cost-sharing policy has different rationales. First, there is the need for another source of revenueother than the government. Second, there is the principle of equity, which is based on the view that those who benefit should share the burden of the costs with the government or taxpayer. As far as Moroccan higher education is concerned, cost-sharing takes two forms. First, it takes the form of the governments shift of fees to the students and families after cutting, either fully or partially, the stipend assistantship/scholarship. Second, it takes the form of shifting enrollment from a publicly subsidized sector to a new private sector in the form of technical schools and private post-secondary institutions (e.g. ISTA).

This raises the  question, to what extent can this cost-sharing policy preserve equity in enrollment and improve the quality of higher education in Morocco? The obvious answer is that this policy is causing more harm to Moroccan higher education. The problem is that the ministry of higher education is no longer able to finance the“public” sector and compels students, who may be competent in mathematics, physics, biology, sociology, or psychology to join technical institutions to study two years of computer science or management.

The  objective to reorient baccalaureate holders, from prestigious institutions and public universities to technical schools, has generally been fulfilled. However, the ministry of higher education looked for more strategies to shift the burden of costs to students families. A concrete example concerns the case of master’s students in different universities.  A master’s student is a researcher whose studies are not limited to courses and examinations. The government used to support all master’s students (like PhD candidates) with a scholarship every three months. The eligibility for this scholarship had no restrictions as all master’s students used to receive it. Since last year, however, many restrictions have been put on who receives this grant among MA students. The only ones who benefit from it are the ones who used to receive it during their undergraduate studies. This strategy leads the ministry of higher education, in particular, and the government, in general, to preserve large amounts of the budget from being “squandered” on higher education.

 This policy of cost-sharing is not a menace to all higher education systems throughout the world. It is its poor implementation and the governments intention to push it to the extreme that makes it a threat to Moroccan higher education. Thus, in Morocco, this policy has created more problems and it will continue to affect the system of higher education if it is not well-implemented or dropped altogether.

 Works Cited

Mhamed, A. A. (2004). Cost-sharing and Access to Higher Education in Morocco: What is wrong? Knowledge, Access and Governance: Strategies for Change (pp. 1, 2, 7). Paris: UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge Colloquium on Research and Higher Education Policy.

Ouakrime, M. (2003). Morocco. In Damtew Teferra and Philip Altbach (Eds). African Higher Education: International Reference Handbook. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

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