Interview: Lahcen Daoudi

What are the most pressing challenges in the way of improving soft skills in Morocco?

LAHCEN DAOUDI: The challenges are numerous. Firstly, the number of students keeps on increasing by around 15% every year, and by up to as much as 29% annually. This leads to logistical challenges, but even if you build more classrooms and hire more teaching staff, it remains very difficult to ensure a diverse skill base that students can take to the labour market. Too many students opt for literature and social sciences degrees instead of science or maths courses. The number of graduates with bachelor’s degrees in maths decreased by 2%, while those with bachelor’s degrees in sciences dropped by 9%. Therefore, we need new specialties – and new people to teach them. That said, as far as engineering and medical schools are concerned, the quality of educational provision is good, and Morocco is well placed compared to the0 rest of the Mediterranean region.

To what extent can public-private partnerships (PPPs) improve the quality of higher education?

DAOUDI: In Morocco, we have had experience with both public and private provision of education, and currently we are implementing a new model based on a trans-national cooperation to setup the Euro-Mediterranean University of Fes, endowed with public utility foundation status. We are launching PPPs – a new type of partnership – with a mix of students, from those who can afford fees to those who will benefit from scholarships, comprising around 20-30% of the total number of students. Indeed, paid-for universities remain largely unviable because a sizeable proportion of the local population is unable to afford them. We need to adjust PPPs to the financial capacities of the Moroccan people, as well as to promote them further out than the CasablancaRabat axis. For example, the PPP model should be used in other cities with greater needs such as Marrakech or Agadir, where room exists for new universities. We should focus on segments such as dental specialisation or the aeronautical industry, which have potential for these partnerships.

What measures can Moroccan universities take to encourage research and development?

DAOUDI: While the programmes we have already put in place to encourage research and development have gone smoothly, we need to manage the pooling of resources more efficiently. For instance, we should install more equipment in laboratories, and expand our cooperation with international universities and private companies that have opened their doors to Moroccan scientists. Indeed, the major problem is administrative rather than financial: we must simplify legal procedures so that researchers can access academic resources without encountering bureaucratic obstacles. We are working with the Ministry of Finance to improve this situation.

How can the private sector help in training students, specifically with regards to internships?

DAOUDI: The private sector is not sufficiently structured. Many students need to do internships, but the industrial sector is concentrated in certain specific areas. The private sector should make more extensive efforts to accept students as interns and impart them with professional skills. At present, however, there is a reluctance to do so on behalf of certain companies as they are unable to give the interns necessary support for their personal development, given the lack of structure in these companies. To resolve this, we have signed an agreement with France under which students will be sent to French companies, as well as an agreement with the General Confederation of the Moroccan Companies to improve collaboration between private companies and universities. This will increase the opportunities available for interns to prepare themselves for professional career paths once they have graduated.