Making Public Education Count in Morocco

February 12, 2015


A language class on content and French grammar.

Ibtissam Alaoui l World Bank

  • Public universities in Morocco have been criticized for failing to prepare students for the job market.
  • One faculty at a public university stands out with its emphasis on practical skills and an impressive record of job placements for its graduates.
  • The World Bank has supported reforms with a US$200 million program focused on measures to ease the school-to-work transition.

Morocco’s public universities are often associated with too much theory in learning, leaving students without the practical skills they need to find a job. The country’s King Mohammed VI has described some university programs as “factories” producing unemployable graduates. He wants higher education to adapt to the job market.

One university faculty stands out as an exception: the Faculty of Legal, Economic and Social Sciences of the Hassan II University at Ain Sebaa in Casablanca. Its dean, Jamila Settar, has used its limited resources to develop a program that illustrates how an educational institution can tackle employability head on.

Chourouk is a faculty graduate—a dynamic young professional. At just 24, she is deputy head of a food distribution company. “I wanted to enroll in a public university to show that this is not a place for losers,” she said. After completing a bachelor’s degree, she felt prepared for a demanding job market. “It’s because I had the chance to kick start my professional career from my university days,” she added.

A placement program introduced by Settar in 2007 aims to integrate students into the job market by combining classroom learning with hands-on internships. Settar secured aid from Germany’s cooperation agency to help train faculty staff in using it. More than 85% of the faculty’s bachelor’s students find a job within a year of graduating. “This was my initial intention when I developed this program,” said Settar.

In their second year, students are taught how to introduce themselves, identify their professional strengths and weaknesses, and develop their resume. “We teach them to feel confident in an interview,” said one coach who teaches students how to prepare. Graduates attend a job fair to which companies are invited to recruit students, giving senior year students a chance to meet potential employers. They are taught to be competitive and choose professions where demand is projected to grow. 


Mouhib Chourouk, a graduate of Ain Sebaa, now works for groceries distribution chain.

Ibtissam Alaoui l World Bank

" All their lives, they have been silenced in classrooms and have never been asked to speak in public. "

Let’s learn to speak (up)!

One of the main difficulties faced by first year students is their poor command of language, both in Arabic and French, Morocco’s second official language. “These students come with significant weaknesses when it comes to writing, reading or expressing themselves,” Settar said. “All their lives, they have been silenced in classrooms and have never been asked to speak in public.”

While most of their schooling is in Arabic, instruction is in French at university, adding another layer of difficulty. Poor communication skills undermine students’ self-esteem. French language support classes at Ain Sebaa have helped curb the drop-out rate from about 54% in 2007–2010 to 46% in 2010–2013.

Extra-curricular activities are also another opportunity for students to develop their communications talents. A program to improve ‘soft skills’ and encourage creativity in art, public speaking and citizen engagement has been developed. When you roam the campus and see the students’ pieces of art on display, you get a sense of how much their own personal development is critical to their learning.

Settar is proud of her 5,000 students; she knows most of them by name. She believes the university is there to serve students and not the other way around.

Together, we can deliver the best’

With no other budget than the standard amount allocated to cover the university’s general fees, the faculty has nonetheless managed to mobilize external funding and develop a number of programs.  Chourouk, the former student, said the model should be replicated if Moroccans wanted public universities to help peoples’ careers.

The World Bank has supported Morocco in its efforts to reduce the skills gap and ease the general school-to-work transition. The Skills and Employment Development Policy Loan (DPL) provided two separate batches of funding of US$100 million each. This support was specifically aimed at measures to improve the employability of graduates who face an unemployment rate of 17 percent—almost double the national average.

Measures include expanding the use of a module of 80 hours of foreign language learning, computer literacy, communication, and life skills, to all universities including Ain Sebaa Faculty. “This is good but not sufficient,” said Settar, adding that a centralized system of tight regulations and budget allocation mechanisms were not helping universities adjust to student needs or engage stakeholders and other partners.

“The achievements of the Ain Sebaa faculty are exceptional, but show that a public university can provide quality education and develop an impressive record of job placement for its graduate if there is strong leadership and the flexibility to adjust to the needs of both students and the economy,” said Kamel Braham, World Bank Task team leader for the Skills and Employment DPL.