Higher Education Systems and Institutions, Morocco

  • Redouane Assad
  • Ali Ait Si MhamedEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9553-1_462-1

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is an Arab, Islamic, and African country. It is located in the North West of Africa with the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. It shares land borders with Algeria in the East and Mauritania in the South. Its population is 34.8 million in 2017 (HCP 2018), and its official languages are Arabic and Berber. Morocco became an independent nation from French occupation in March 1956.

Higher Education System Development

Morocco’s higher education is diversified both in programs it offers as well as languages of instruction, with Arabic, French, and English languages being main languages used for delivering content.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Moroccan higher education system was mainly traditional in the sense that it delivered studies on Islamic religion and theology as well as standard and classical Arabic language and literature. In fact, Morocco has the oldest existing, continually operating university in the world, named Al Quaraouiyine. Founded in 859 in Fes city, Al Quaraouiyine university was the leading spiritual and educational institution all over the world. In addition to Al Quaraouiyine, Ben Youssef University (which was a Madrasa) was one of the largest theological higher education institutions in North Africa founded in the 1351 in Marrakech city.

Transformation and Modernization of Higher Education

Higher education system in Morocco witnessed a tangible transformation of modernization at the beginning of the twentieth century. Five modern institutions emerged in the system such as Institute for Moroccan Higher Studies (Institut des hautes études marocaines) founded in 1920 in Rabat city and Scientific Institute (Institut Scientifique) and the Center for Higher Scientific Studies (le Centre d’Etudes Supérieures Scientifiques) in 1952, to name a few. Five years later in 1957, Mohamed the Fifth University – the first modern university whereby studies of modern science and arts were established and delivered in Arabic and French languages – was founded in the city of Rabat with three open access schools (i.e., a high school degree is enough for a student to enroll in any program offered in the three schools). In addition, three modern schools have been created in Al Quaraouyine university in different cities of Marrakech, Tetouan, and Agadir. Medical and engineering institutions were created in addition to seven executive training institutions (Formation des cadres) between 1945 and 1972. The latter’s mission is to prepare qualified policy makers and leaders. This new transformation led to the development of two public higher education sub systems: the public university system and executive training system (la Formation des Cadres) also known as nonuniversity system (Clark 1995; Law 01.00 2000).

Following the trend of tertiary education massification and expansion (Trow 1983; Schendel and McCowan 2016), the period between 1970s and 1980s witnessed massification of tertiary education in Morocco. As an example, Morocco expanded several schools and institutions to different cities and regions. Not only that, but it also diversified fields of study with additional programs in technical science, economics, management, engineering, architecture, trading, teaching, translation, and languages.

In 1984, higher education system witnessed another fundamental transformation with the launch of vocational education reform and the birth of private higher education. The first two higher education private institutions were created in Casablanca city. In the following years, the number of private higher education institutions (HEIs) continued to grow. In 6 years, 21 private HEIs were established. Due to this rapid expansion, the private higher education system experienced a turning point at the beginning of the last decade with the creation of new private universities and the merger of private schools to give birth to multidisciplinary private campuses in Morocco. In 2018, five private universities have been created.

In addition, a new model of higher education institutions and universities was introduced in Morocco: institutions created in the public–private partnership with the support of Moroccan government. This type of higher education institutions has different names: not for-profit institutions, privately managed public institutions or semipublic institutions. The first university – International University of Rabat – was founded in 2009 and opened its doors to students in September 2010.

Private higher education gradually emerged in Morocco in the forms of private and semipublic (i.e., private nonprofit institutions which are partially publically funded) institutions as a result of the move from elite to mass higher education (Traw 1983). This reform is driven mainly by factors of social pressure, the inability of the public higher education to respond to students’ needs in particular disciplines, and to the labor market overall. To match the training to the needs of a dynamic economic sector, the private and semipublic higher education systems are more flexible in changing and/or diversifying their programs and even their degrees by offering short-term programs, night courses, certificate programs, master’s degrees, dual degrees with foreign institutions, and many other opportunities.

Consequently, the Moroccan higher education system is comprised of three subsystems: public higher education system, private higher education system, and semipublic higher education system. Nevertheless, public HEIs continue to be the dominant provider of higher education in Morocco.

Open Access and Limited Access Systems

Public tertiary education is largely still free and is comprised of two subsystems: the university system and the executive training system also known as the public nonuniversity system (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2000).

The public nonuniversity system is supplied by vocational, educational, and training institutions, and is financially administered and managed by the ministries of central government such as the Department of Vocational Training, the Ministry of Agriculture, to name a few. The public nonuniversity system is comprised of selective access institutions such as the School of Engineering.

Public university system is offered in two categories of institutions:
  • Institutions of limited access: formal selection procedures, and sometimes entrance exams, are mandatory for enrollment. In addition to the exams, students have to respond to certain merit criteria to be enrolled, such as high grade point average (GPA) and high scores in specific content areas. Hence, the number of students enrolled in this kind of institutions is small and did not exceed 25% in 2018. Consequently, selection of highly qualified students to limited access institutions might explain the high quality of this particular system.

  • Institutions of open access: a high school diploma (known in Morocco as Le Baccalaureat) is enough to guarantee enrollment in this kind of HEIs. Some examples of open access HEIs are Institutions of Sciences, Law and Economics, Humanity Sciences, and original education (religious studies). Thereby, these public institutions that belong to public universities are overcrowded. In other words, free open access institutions enroll 67.8% of the total number of students enrolled in 2018 (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018). In other terms, this system represents more than two thirds of the overall higher education system in Morocco.

In 2018, higher education is carried out by 24 universities and their satellite campuses in regional cities in addition to several nonuniversity institutions. Among these, 12 are public universities under the supervision of the higher education department with 126 satellite campuses. One university (Al Qaraouiyine) is completely supervised and managed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and teach in Arabic language. Nonuniversity institutions include 71 executive training schools and institutions. Seven hundred and forty-eight public vocational schools are present. In terms of semipublic system, there are six independent public, not-for-profit universities with 32 satellite campuses, and two independent public not-for-profit nonuniversity institutions. The private system consists of five private universities with 20 satellite campuses, 165 private for-profit schools, and 491 vocational private schools (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018).

Higher Education System Expansion and Student Enrollment Growth

Public higher education students are from upper socioeconomic status (SES) families (Assad 2008) because the total cost of higher education goes beyond fees and books expenses. These expenses are not affordable for students from lower SES families. Private costs of higher education also include payments for lodging, food, and transportation in the large cities which are very expensive relative to small cities and regions. Like most countries worldwide, Morocco has gone through some cost sharing through inscription fees and private costs borne by families and students (Johnstone 2006).

During the period 2000–2018, higher education system in Morocco witnessed an intensive growth. The total number of students was more than quadrupled. The numbers increased from 296,000 students in 2000 to 1 million 56,000 students in 2018, with an average yearly growth rate of 7.3%. The strongest growth in these 18 years was recorded between 2011 and 2018, with an average yearly growth rate of 11.1%. However, the offer is still low compared to the target population. In fact, the gross enrollment ratio in higher education is around 35% in 2018 (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018).

The number of students in private and semipublic HEIs did not exceed 7.2% of total students in Morocco in 2018 (Higher education in numbers 2017/2018, Higher Education and Scientific Research department, Morocco).

Since the creation of the first modern university in Morocco in 1957, both females and males have participated in higher education, with a higher percentage of males than females which may be due to many reasons (the culture combined to the economic situation, especially in rural area, which prioritize male education over female education if families have to make their choice). Overtime, serious efforts were taken to narrow this gender gap. As a result, these efforts have been reflected on the amelioration of female participation from 42% to 49% during the period 2000–2018 (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Evolution of male and female participation in higher education

The supply of educated and highly qualified labor in different fields has also recorded a substantial growth. The number of higher education graduates has grown from 39,000 in 2000 to about 180,000 graduates in 2018, with an average yearly growth rate of 8.9% (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018).

Faculty and Staff in Higher Education

Faculty members are generally permanent employees, particularly in the public system. A national doctorate or equivalent degree is prerequisite for a permanent faculty position at public universities. Their appointments are often based on a merit selective procedure led by university committees which consist of faculty members from appropriate disciplines of the candidates seeking to fill the available position(s). The most commonly used faculty ranking titles are assistant professor, associate (aka habilité) professor, and full professor. Moreover, a small number of instructors who do not hold doctorates, and hence are not qualified to be classified in the three major levels, are often hired as assistants. In 2018, the distribution of faculty members by rankings is as follows: assistant professors consist 32%; associate (habilité) professors 16%; higher education professors 46%. Close to 60% of faculty members (58% to be exact) are around 50 years or older (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018).

Mindful of the significant role of human resources in higher education, a large pool of academic and administrative staff is trained. As of 2018, the total higher education employees (i.e., faculty and staff) is around 50,000 members. This seems to be one of the government priorities, particularly under increasing pressure of high demand (as enrollments show in Table 1) for higher education, as well as higher education massification. Both factors present the challenges of meeting sufficient numbers of faculty and staff needed. In 2018, academic staff represented 67% and their number has substantially increased from around 17,000 in 2000 to 33,500 professors (Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research 2018). With this in mind, the student–teacher ratio has increased between 2000 and 2018. In 2018, the ratio is 31 students per teacher compared to 18 students per teacher in 2000.
Table 1

Higher education enrollments growth in Morocco 2000–2018


Public higher education

Private and public partnership higher education


Open access

Limited access
































Higher Education Governance

Higher education system was for a long time the government’s responsibility. With the new reform, the monopoly of the government in managing the system was abolished and replaced by new management procedures based on the autonomy of universities, contractual relationship, and private–public partnership. This new step is due to the national will to encourage decentralization. The relationship between central department of higher education and universities has been developed based on mutual responsibilities and new concept of effective shared governance that involves universities’ actors as well as external actors representing community and economic sector.

Higher education system has experienced several reforms over time of which the major one started in 2000 with the adoption of the law 01.00 on organizing higher education. Such a reform was effectively implemented by all universities in 2003–2004, and it has also inspired its foundations from the National Charter of Education and Training (Commission Spéciale Education Formation, Royaume du Maroc. 1999).

A modular system, the learning in small groups, and the continuous controlling system were launched. This reform is characterized by the adoption of a new educational architecture based on the LMD system (similar to Bologna Process standards). LMD stands for Licence (i.e., bachelor), Matrise (i.e. master), and doctorate. The LMD architecture requires students to complete the bachelor degree in 3 years; master degree in 2 years, and the doctoral degree in 3 years. That is a total of 8 years allegedly required to complete the three degrees. The reform also includes enhancement of universities’ governance, leading them to a complete autonomy.

The last reform has led to a major transformation of higher education governance. Under this new change, the government’s interventions are limited to a strategic and regulatory role. The government identifies the major orientations and strategic choices. It also controls the planning, organization, development, regulation, and orientation according to the economic, social, and cultural needs of the nation. The government monitors these national policies with major assistance of the scientific community, the economic world, as well as regional and local communities.

The National Commission of Higher Education Coordination has been created in 2002. The role of the commission is to prepare standards and criteria for evaluation, accreditation, and recognition of programs and provide feedback as well as opinions on new ideas related to university or institution creation in both public and private sectors. New autonomous structures have also been created such as the National Department in charge of student social affairs (Office National des Œuvres Universitaires, Sociales et Culturelles) and the National Agency of Evaluation and Quality Assurance (Agence nationale d’évaluation et d’assurance qualité).

The government has assigned the responsibility of managing education and training to the structures of governance at the territorial level by delegating powers and tasks within the framework of independence, contracting, and accounting. Subsequently, a new system of organization of universities is created based on two pillars: Council of the University, with new attributions and members, and Council of the University schools, whose responsibilities include, but not limited to, preparing proposals for the budget and its distribution and make proposals to the Council of the University on all matters relating to the daily functions of the school.

To materialize the university’s autonomy, the university council is formed. The latter is the principle governing body of the university. It is headed by the university president and comprised of members from the university, the private higher education and nonuniversity system, and economic sector. Due to this new governance reform, most of central administration responsibilities are delegated to university (e.g., administrative and financial management, etc.). The university’s missions are expanded in a way that allows the university to diversify its sources of funding (continuing education, services, entrepreneurship, etc.). The ministry is transferring asset property to universities as well as negotiations with employees and faculty unions over faculty recruitment.

University president appellation has replaced university rector, and new governance positions were created such as the vice president for the academic affairs, the vice president for scientific research, vice-deans, and so forth. The university presidents and deans’ appointment is a merit-selective process for a period of 4 years (there is now a law project to increase it to 5 years). They may apply for a second and final term. Since 2003, the university president has been the executive authority over university budgets. In this sense, budgetary allocations and the appointment of qualified faculty and staff are now undertaken and determined by the university. However, students’ admission requirements are still determined by the national commission of higher education coordination.

Funding System

For a long time, the government was the only funding source of higher education in Morocco with families’ and students’ share in the indirect costs such as transportation, books, etc. Currently, private investors and philanthropic foundations contribute to higher education funding with involvement in reducing the social demand on public higher education system. Additionally, a tax of 1.6% from the payroll (i.e., salaries) of private companies goes to the vocational education department.

Currently, policy makers have opted for the sheer need for cost-sharing mechanism, owing to serious funding challenges facing Moroccan higher education. Under this mechanism, students are contributing more and more to their higher education’s total cost (Johnstone 2005). Some of the current challenges facing Moroccan higher education include scarce resources, necessary expansion of the system due to the current high social demand (pressure), the imperative quality and equity improvement, and the ambitious objectives of the K-12 education reform.

The shift of higher education cost to families/students was accentuated with the introduction of semipublic system with higher tuition fees. Investors who invest in higher education schools and the construction of university residences and campuses benefit from special tax incentives (Law 01.00).

Public Moroccan higher education is financed by several ministries. However, the main share of public expenditure is supported by the higher education department, and goes to public universities. Despite the autonomy of public universities, their funding is almost mainly based on government budget with a minimal share in tuition fees paid for professional development (aka life-long learning) trainings. The total public universities’ budget coming from the Ministry of Higher Education is 10.8 billion Moroccan Dirham (MAD) in 2018 (approximately 1.5 billion USD with an exchange rate of 1 USD = 9.53 MAD). The current budget, which represents 89% of the total budget, covers salaries (64.8%), student social affairs’ subsidies (21.4%), and grants to university institutions (11%). It is worth mentioning that the massification of higher education has increased the pressure on social affairs budget. Thus, the budget allocated to scholarships has strongly increased from 488 million MAD (around 51 million USD) in 2010 to 1 billion 628 million MAD (close to 171 million USD) in 2018. Additionally, and in order to reduce the burden of higher education cost on students from needy families, social services for students as accommodation, meals, and scholarships are publicly funded. Students pay a symbolic amount (contribution of 1.20 MAD (which corresponds to 0.12 USD) for the meal, which represents around 5% of its cost and 40 MAD (which corresponds to 4.20 USD) for accommodation). Additionally, all students are entitled to health insurance if they are not covered by their parents.

To diversify the financial sources for higher education to support the university in this phase of massification, family contribution, through tuition fees, might be implemented after the adoption of the framework law 51.17 on education, training, and scientific research system emanating and resulting from the strategic vision of education, training, and scientific research for 2015–2030. At the moment, the project, and maily the introduction of tuition fees, has had a broad discussion with all concerned parties and is currently debated at the parliament. Along the lines of this future framework, a student loan scheme may be introduced that is more equitable than the current one which is available through private banks with a presumably high interest rate.

The massification of higher education combined with limited financial resources has created several challenges, especially in the open access institutions. This issue has negatively impacted higher education quality and thereby its internal and external performance. The internal performance manifests primarily in the persistence of wastage (around half of bachelor students leave the system without a degree). The government is multiplying efforts to overcome the quality challenge as stated in the strategic vision 2015–2030 of higher education in Morocco – Higher Council for Education, Training, and Scientific Research – and the strategy of the Ministry of Higher Education.

External performance manifests in increasing rates of unemployment particularly in open access system. The rate of unemployment around open access graduates is increased from 23.40% in 2011 to 24.40% in 2015. In limited access system, although the rate is lower compared to open access, the unemployment rate still jumped from 5% in 2011 to 9.70% in 2015. This may be due to more rapid growth of HE and less job market demand for limited access graduates. The overall total rate of unemployment of HE graduates with both systems combined was 20.80% in 2015 compared to a lower rate of 18.70% in 2011 (HCP 2016).

All in all, the challenges facing HE in Morocco can be summarized in three points: the inability of the Moroccan job market to absorb the large flow of gradates; inadequate training for the job market (especially around open access graduates); and noninvolvement of the economic sector in contributing to financing public higher education which enrolls the majority of Moroccan students.


The system of higher education has experienced dynamic development associated with expansion of the system, more providers of higher education, increase in student enrollments, diversification of training programs, new governance system, and the introduction of LMD system following Bologna process. These transformations have introduced a new form of governing higher education through increase autonomy of institutions. Along with all the mentioned changes, the system has experienced a fundamental shift in funding. Among some highlighted funding reforms include a strong increase in need-based scholarships, subsidization of lodging and food, insurance coverage for all students, and introduction of a student loan program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Strategies and Information SystemMinistry of Higher Education and Scientific ResearchHassanMorocco
  2. 2.Graduate School of EducationNazarbayev UniversityAstanaKazakhstan

Section editors and affiliations

  • Goolam Mohamedbhai
    • 1
  • Patricio Langa
    • 2
  1. 1.Rose-HillMauritius
  2. 2.Centre for Adult and Continuing EducationUniversity of the Western CapeCape TownSouth Africa