I started the week in Tangier, where we ran a British Council seminar on graduate employability, with very interesting contributions from several Moroccan universities, some of which, like Tangier, Settat and UM5A are doing terrific work; and a couple of visitors from Liverpool John Moores, one of the leaders in the field in Great Britain. Two days of exceptionally constructive and fruitful discussion, with several projects emerging. Employability – or rather employment, to which employability is a necessary prelude – is probably the central concern for young people in most of North Africa. The figures are depressingly downbeat.
I’ve spent a week or two researching a lecture that I gave yesterday to the World Forum of Public Universities, meeting at Université Mohamed V Agdal, in Rabat. I was asked to speak about The Arab Spring and Youth – a curious challenge which took me straight off into employment and the complicated knot of problems that include risk-aversion, the bloated public sector, unfunded massification, lack of skills and so on.
Actually, of course, this list could almost as easily describe the recent history of Great Britain, which is why there is such a fruitful conversation between British and Moroccan educational planners and HE leaders. Scale and starting-point are different, but the intractable questions are the same, of how to do more with less; how to sustain quality in a falling market; how to nudge graduates into enterprise and the private sector; how to ensure that skills as much as knowledge are being taught; how to fund expansion; and how (as well occasionally as whether) to plan to the job-market … all these are in common. And while I absolutely do not believe that Britain has yet found all the right answers, I am pretty sure that Britain is asking the right questions: and that is the basis for very fruitful collaboration. Much more so than many universities of southern Europe, largely unreformed, uncannily similar in many ways to those of North Africa, and hamstrung by unrealistic notions of degree-given entitlement.
My lecture begins with the Arab Spring, before going onto to youth, education and employment:
“In a literal sense, the Arab Spring began on December 17th 2010 at Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, when a young man called Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself, driven to despair by the humiliation, denigration, bullying and casual cruelty – what in North Africa is called hogra – of the local authorities.
“Just as significant, though, is the reason why Mohamed Bouazizi was pushing his barrow round the streets of his fly-blown town, selling vegetables bought on credit for tiny profits. He had no job, because there weren’t any jobs in Sidi Bouzid. Having left high school himself without graduating, he sold vegetables in order to give his five younger brothers and sisters the chance to stay in school. His sister Samira told al-Jazeera that “My sister was the one in university and he would pay for her, and I am still a student and he would spend money on me.” Another sister, Basma, said, “His dream was to see his sisters go to university.”
“In this way Mohamed Bouazizi epitomizes not just the chain of events he was unfortunate enough to spark off, but the huge earthquake of pent-up aspiration, frustration and despair that many of the young people of the region felt, and feel, rumbling beneath their feet. He knew that the future for his family lay in education; and he didn’t see any difference between the proper expectations of boys and girls. There is nobility not just obliquely in his self-sacrifice, but directly in his determination that his family should prosper through education.
“Bouazizi stands for the revolutions themselves but also for the demographic, social and political movements that led to them. In addressing today The Arab Spring and the Young, I’m talking about two halves of a single whole: the Arab Spring was the work of the young, the outcome of their frustration. The future – the Summer, if you like – is inexorably theirs. What I shall try to do this morning is to sketch out a little of my own, no doubt rather naïve, thinking on this linkage. I’ll talk a little about demography and social media; I’ll touch on education and employment; and I’ll finish with some more general thoughts on the global significance of what has happened over the last two years, and is still happening today, in the MENA region. Because I think that the Arab Spring may well be the first cuckoo of a much wider season of discontent and change which will affect the world, perhaps to its ultimate benefit.
Read the whole text here.