Ensuring access to education has been a prime objective for Morocco over the past couple of decades, and recent indicators illustrate significant progress. The primary level net enrolment ratio, for instance, rose from 71% to 99% between 1999 and 2013, according to the report “Education For All 2000-15” by UNESCO, and the number of public schools in primary, middle and secondary education rose from 8897 in 2005 to 10,208 in 2012.

This comes on the back of major efforts to reform the education system through strategies such as the National Charter of Education 1999-2005, which looked to reform and extend education at preschool, elementary and secondary education, particularly in rural areas, and the Emergency Plan 2009-12 which, among other things, focused on extending primary education to age 15, achieving a 90% enrolment rate for pupils aged 12-14 and improving both access to and the quality of higher education, while devolving administration and strategy away from central government control to higher education institutes.

The government has also maintained a high level of public spending on the sector. According to World Bank data, education was allocated Dh45.8bn (€4.19bn) in 2016. Although this figure is slightly lower than the allocation for 2015, which reached Dh46.3bn (€4.25bn), the sector remains one of the largest recipients of state spending, accounting for a quarter of the national budget.

Work In Progress

While basic indicators have improved, Morocco still faces significant challenges to improving the quality of education on offer. The UNESCO report, published in 2014, which evaluated the progress of 164 governments on six wide-ranging education goals agreed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000, indicated that Morocco was falling far short some of the objectives, including achieving universal education and halving illiteracy rates by 2015. UNESCO reported that just 58% of children in Morocco attended preschool in 2014, when the target was to attain 70% by 2015 (although primary enrolment rates increased from 71% to 99% over the period).

As for illiteracy rates, although UNESCO did not include country-specific data, according to France’s National Agency for the Fight against Illiteracy, around a third of the population in Morocco, or 10m people, were still illiterate in 2015.

New Reform

To that end, a new reform plan, the Strategic Vision 2015-30, drafted by the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research (Conseil Supérieur de l’Education, de la Formation et de la Recherche Scientifique, CSEFRS), was unveiled in May 2015.

The 15-year strategy relies on three main pillars: equity and equal opportunities, quality education for all, and social and individual progress. Changes called for under the first pillar include making preschool education compulsory, improving education in rural and underserved areas, ensuring access to education for handicapped people and increasing private sector contribution to help achieve universal education.

Better student and teacher training is targeted under the second pillar, alongside revising school programmes and curricula, improving language proficiency, broadening vocational training and enhancing governance.

Finally, the third pillar focuses on promoting a national identity through education as well as fostering awareness of citizenship and democratic values. It also aims to equip students with adequate training in order to ensure employable skill sets and social integration.


In 2015-16, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary education in Morocco stood at 6.88m, with the public sector absorbing the largest share at 88%. While enrolment rates across the board have noticeably improved, dropout rates remain problematic. An estimated seven out of 10 children leave school before reaching the baccalaureate, an award that is taken during the last year at high school and is subject to a final national exam. According to a study carried out by the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle, MENFP) in 2012, only 30 out of every 100 children in primary school go on to obtain their baccalaureate. The remainder leave due to a lack of motivation or means, notably for transportation to and from the classroom.

This problem is particularly pronounced in the rural parts of the country and authorities are investigating ways to bridge this gap. In 2016 the government plans to invest Dh5.1bn (€467.6m) in rural and underserved areas and construct 114 nurseries, 90 schools, 33 middle schools, 29 high schools and more than 800 homes for teaching staff, according to local press reports. These projects are expected to benefit some 1.5m people.

Private Establishments 

The private sector is also starting to play an important role in enhancing access to education. Like most of the Maghreb region, private providers are increasingly penetrating all levels of education, from nurseries to vocational training and higher education.

The private sector currently accounts for 12.57% of students in the education system, and the number of primary school pupils enrolled in private schools increased from 3% to 15% between 1999 and 2012. This upward trend comes partly on the back of an evolving legal framework regulating private education and increased efforts by the MENFP to foster better collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Indeed, a decree is currently under consideration to support the development of public-private partnerships (PPPs) at the primary and secondary levels to open a series of associated schools in the country. While the ultimate goal behind this consists of expanding private education and offerings, it also aims to diversify funding sources and provide for better regulation in a sector where no official classification of private schools is available and no oversight over tuition fees is exercised. In line with this, a pilot project has been rolled out in partnership with OCP S.A., the formerly state-owned phosphate company, to establish three new associated schools, which are set to open their doors in September 2016. OCP S.A. also plans to invest in the rehabilitation of over 60 schools.

Language Learning

Foreign language tuition, particularly at the primary and secondary levels, was one of the main deficiencies highlighted by the CSEFRS in their 2015 report as being in need of immediate reform. Although French and other foreign languages, such as English, are currently taught as second languages in public schools and, occasionally, as first languages in private institutions, Arabic has been the main language of instruction since the 1980s. According to the CSEFRS this strategy has not yielded satisfactory results in terms of students’ foreign language acquisition, and has constituted an obstacle for students transitioning to university, where lessons are almost entirely taught in French.

In light of recommendations made by the CSEFRS, in February 2016 King Mohammed VI announced that starting from the 2016-17 academic year, scientific subjects including mathematics, physics and natural science will be taught in French, and that instruction in the language will begin in the first year of primary school instead of the third. English will be taught from fourth grade.

Shortly following the announcement, Rachid Benmokhtar, minster of national education and vocational training, told local press that, while the reform was in no way intended to lessen the position of Arabic in education, improving foreign languages, particularly through the teaching of scientific subjects, was necessary to give students greater opportunities to access the job market and improve Morocco’s global competitiveness.

Implementing this reform could be quite a challenge for the school system, particularly in terms of ensuring that teachers are fully prepared to make the transition. Only 60,000 out of 128,000 primary school teachers have mastered both Arabic and French, with the majority teaching exclusively in Arabic, according to Benmokhtar.

Vocational Training

The number of students accessing vocational training has progressed in recent years, primarily on the back of government efforts and significant investment being channelled into the Office of Professional Training and Employment Promotion (Office de la Formation Professionnelle et de la Promotion du Travail, OFPPT), the country’s public provider of vocational training which, according to their latest available data, provided training to around 220,000 young people in 2009/10.

In 2015 the government introduced the National Strategy for Vocational Training 2021. Requiring up to Dh65bn (€6bn) in funding, the strategy aims to attract up to 10m people to vocational training by 2021 and increase the employability rate to 75%. The plan, which aims to adopt a more comprehensive approach with a view to broadening access to training, has five main objectives: ensuring access to vocational education for all; fostering closer ties with the business community; bringing training in line with the needs of the national economy; building stronger collaboration with mainstream education; and enhancing governance.

Broadening Access To Education

To help pave the way toward reaching these ambitious goals, the government authorities have already engaged in examining different ways to broaden access. In April 2016, for instance, a decision was taken by the MENFP allowing children and teenagers with limited or no prior schooling to access vocational training courses. El Hadi Bencherif, general director at Collège Lasalle in Morocco, told OBG that one of the reasons behind the evolution in student numbers entering vocational training is that the segment continues to capture an important share of school dropouts.

That said, a large number of students are also willingly opting for vocational training, which they have come to regard as a suitable alternative to lengthy conventional school courses and a faster way to access the labour market.

Furthermore, course options have broadened in recent years to encompass intricate and niche professions, such as fashion and aeronautics, at schools such as the Collège Lasalle and the Moroccan Aerospace Institute, set up in Nouaceur in 2011, therefore attracting students by choice and not out of necessity. “The general trend consists in professionalising training and gearing it towards imminent employability,” Bencherif told OBG.

In 2015 it became possible for some students graduating from vocational institutes under the auspices of the OFPPT to pursue further training in higher education business and engineering schools. Two routes are currently available to students, the first for technicians who wish to study to become an engineer, and the second for vocational graduates who want to obtain a professional licence. Though students can only go as far as obtaining a professional bachelor’s degree, it provides yet another incentive encouraging access to vocational education.

The authorities are also looking to achieve their objectives through greater collaboration with the private sector. In April 2016 the MENFP announced a partnership with Microsoft Morocco to improve the ICT skills of students on vocational courses, with the aim of improving students’ competitiveness in the job market. The company has also committed to establishing 600 Microsoft Academies and 600 certification centres for OFPPT students to obtain ICT qualifications.

Higher Education

The number of students enrolled in higher education has increased by 11% per year, on average, between 2011 and 2016 to stand at around 700,000 students today. This comes on the back of a rising number of students enrolled in secondary education, which grew from 618,871 in 2005/06 to 905,051 in 2012/13.

To accompany the rise in demand, a number of new universities have been constructed in recent years, opening up new possibilities for students and broadening the choice of courses on offer. This includes a handful of private universities, such as the Université Privée de Fès and the Université Internationale de Casablanca but also universities developed as PPPs, including the Université Internationale de Rabat, which was developed by a group of Moroccan professors and the state-owned Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion.

Several new universities have also been set up in partnership with foreign institutions. The Ecole Centrale de Casablanca, a partnership uniting France’s Ecole Centrale Paris and the Moroccan government, is one of the latest newcomers to the sector, opening its doors in 2015/16.

Capacity Challenge

Despite the arrival of new institutions, capacity still remains insufficient to meet rising demand, according to Hassan Sayarh, managing director of the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Management (HEM). “The newly established facilities offer limited capacity compared to the number of new students entering higher education every year,” he told OBG. Further investment in the sector is therefore important to be able to accommodate the rising number of students, which is expected to peak at 1.23m by 2021.

Limited Impact

As Sayarh points out, the fact that the majority of new institutions are private, with limited class sizes, means that the impact of private education on the tertiary sector is limited. With over 300 institutions and a dozen private universities, the private sector currently accounts for around 5-6% of all students enrolled in higher education. The first private schools appeared in the 1980s, including HEM and College Lasalle. More recent arrivals include Casablanca Hospitality School, which opened in 2015-16 and offers courses tailored by Switzerland-based Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, while French business school, Ecole supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) is expected to launch a campus – ESSEC Afrique Atlantique – in Rabat in September 2016. The new €5m school will have a student capacity of around 450.

As a result, while the private sector continues to expand, it still has some headway to make before reaching the government’s objective of absorbing 20% of students by 2020. “No significant increase in terms of capacity has been observed in the private sector, even though the number of high school graduates continues to rise,” Sayarh told OBG. This can be partly explained by the fact that while new institutions have come into existence, other less competitive schools are leaving the market. Additionally, limited purchasing power, and a lack of awareness and proliferation of the PPP model in higher education are some other factors influencing the slow growth of the sector.

Continuing & Executive Training

Continuing and executive training are becoming increasingly popular in Morocco, with both the public and private sectors offering a wide variety of courses. This comes on the back of rising demand, especially on behalf of business executives. A number of obstacles, however, currently stand in the way.

The absence of a legal framework regulating this sector has meant things have been slow to develop, and the pace at which it is growing remains relatively moderate. Moreover, many employers are still reluctant to invest in continuing training for fear that their employees may leave upon its completion. “Quite often, those seeking executive and continuing training are people in senior management positions who often come by their own means and not necessarily on behalf of a company,” Tawfiq Rkibi, dean of the International University of Casablanca, told OBG. “The life cycle of skills has been reduced, and therefore continuing education should be regarded as an indispensable component of the education system.”

Research & Innovation 

Scientific and technical research in Morocco is mainly overseen and funded by the National Centre for Technical and Scientific Research (Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique et Technique, CNRST). Private sector contribution remains modest, accounting for just 20% of investments. The government has been investing considerable effort into the sector since 2013, according to Driss Aboutajdine, director of the CNRST. “Prior to 2013, the CNRST was juggling with very modest funding to finance research projects,” he told OBG. The state has also come to play an important role in mobilising major companies and organisations, such as the OCP S.A., Managem and the Lalla Salma foundation, to invest in research. These entities have in turn helped stoke growth for a number of small and medium-sized enterprises, which participate in steering research projects towards addressing the various needs of the market.

The government is now looking to encourage further collaboration with universities, setting aside a budget of around Dh300m (€27.5m) to help fund a wide array of research projects selected by the CNRST to be carried out in several sectors, including ICT, automotive, health and construction. Overall, the budget allocated to research is expected to represent 1% of GDP in the short term, 1.5% by 2025 and 2% by 2030.


In the short to medium term, the public sector will continue to represent the main educational provider in Morocco while the private sector will continue to depend on political will to encourage its growth and attract more students. Collaboration between both sectors will be key in addressing capacity and quality shortfalls.

Vocational training is also likely to continue to play a major role in providing students in mainstream education with another alternative as well as putting new graduates into a market where needs for qualified labour are constantly evolving. As part of its efforts to position itself as a gateway to West Africa, Morocco can capitalise on its favourable location and stability to attract more foreign students from around the region, whose numbers currently make up under 1% of students.