Entitlement and hoopoes’ blood

It’s bac time again, with thousands of young Moroccans chewing their pens and writing exams. The price of hoopoes’ blood, that sovereign booster of exam performance, is no doubt sky-high. The newspapers are full of ingenious stories of cheating. They also pay much attention to what comes next, and there was an interesting survey in L’Economiste this week about what lycée-leavers intend to do. There’s much said about career aspirations (engineering well in the lead for boys and girls) and courses of higher study. But the most interesting phenomenon is the unexpectedly small proportion of students who want to study abroad, at only 12 per cent. Why? Les complications pour obtenir un visa étudiant, la crise européenne et l’installation d’un grand nombre d’établissements étrangers de renom … This is very interesting.

The same phenomenon is picked up by Driss Lahlou in an article on career choice at the back of the paper. He highlights four major trends in Higher Education in Morocco:

  1. The growing concentration of the private HE offer in a number of major institutions with reliable quality and a distinctive offering of their own.
  2. The globalisation of higher education, with the growth too of dually awarded degrees, foreign accreditation and the increase in foreign degrees delivered locally.
  3. Growing focus on high-tech specialities like IT, telecoms and logistics – with strong appetite from the job-market for all these, especially informatic engineering and logistics.
  4. Growing diversification towards Anglophone education. “Limiting ourselves to French educations will not open us up to the world.” Really good education in English gives the student “a good mastery of the language while at the same time opening the doors of first-rate British or American teaching – still little known in the emerging francophone countries.”

That accords well with what I see. Private Higher Education is growing fast – not perhaps quite as fast as the Ministry would like, but 20% of bac students told the survey that they wanted to study privately, which hits the Ministry’s aspirations for the market, if not yet its capacity. Foreign institutions are setting up in Morocco, and foreign degrees are easier to obtain here than ever before (whatever recognition problems may remain). Closest to my desk is SIST, on the floor below the British Council, which offers degrees from the University of Sunderland and Cardiff Metropolitan. For the first time a few weeks ago, I visited Mundiapolis in Agadir, and was extremely impressed by the resource, quality and student offer.

Dr Lahlou’s third point is also interesting. Logistics isn’t a subject that has much detained me – a historian – until recently. But last week I signed an agreement with CGEM and the Supply Chain Foundation (of the UK) to establish a comprehensive framework of training and qualifications in logistics, focusing initially on the aeronautics industry. This is clearly riding a wave. The project will soon offer customised Moroccan syllabi for all levels from technician to Master’s students, and dually accredited Anglo-Moroccan qualifications. This is a very potent alliance, and I suspect a model of things to come.

Finally, education in English. I wrote recently about the growing movement towards English in education, and indeed towards English education. One Russell Group university told me recently that it has received more than 130 UCAS applications this year – almost as many as there were Moroccan students in the UK when I first arrived here. There is a growing understanding amongst the French-educated, the children of the lycée de la mission that French monolingualism is boxing them in, limiting their prospects. That English-language education is a passport to a globalised world, through universities that are disproportinately of world class.

This week I had a fascinating conversation with one of Morocco’s premier foundation institutions not just about the language and organization of ‘Anglo-Saxon education,’ but its philosophical assumptions concerning individual student autonomy, the nature of achievement, the entitlement conferred by a degree and above all the methodology of assessment. What struck me most was the mechanicity of the system that the French left behind in Morocco and which has not adapted with any real flexibility for the twenty-first century. Above all, the strange almost metaphysical rights conferred by a degree to job, security, salary, respect. It isn’t unique to Morocco (I first came across it working in Italy twenty years ago, where the intitolomento, the entitlement that a laurea bestowed, stretched to different salaries for the same job as a non-laureato). Here its corrosiveness is shown by the regular demonstrations outside Parliament by chômeurs diplomés who demand unconditional and uncompetitive recruitment into the civil service simply by virtue of having a degree. (In what? 80% of them, I gather, are graduates in Arabic Literature, Islamic Studies, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. What does that tell us?)

So I remind myself that what still characterizes British higher education is the complete absence of entitlement: a degree is just an entry-ticket to one tier of the employment market, not a season-ticket to a job. A graduate looking for a job in England still has to prove, in a very competitive market, not what she has done, but what she can do. A degree in a particular subject from a particular university may be one part of that portfolio of proof, but in these days of mass higher education, it’s only a small part. Today almost half of young Britons have degrees of one kind or another. Employers look through those degrees (what kind of university is it from? What does it tell me about this young woman?); and beyond them (what can she do? What is her future potential?) Entitlement has gone the way of hoopoes’ blood.


One thought on “Entitlement and hoopoes’ blood

  1. Hi Martin,
    Very interesting blog. I came across it as I was searching for a contact for you at the British Council in Rabat. Am surprised you think 12% is low… how would that compare to a similar study in the UK I wonder!
    Cheers, Alice

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