TNE opportunities and barriers in Morocco

“What many people probably don’t appreciate about Morocco is its growing status as an economic and cultural bridge between Europe and Africa”

One thing that Covid-19 has taught us about UK universities’ approach to international engagement is the critical importance of diversifying across countries and regions, writes John Mcnamara, Global Research Manager at the British Council.

While Asia remains key for student recruitment and transnational education, opportunities in newly emerging markets is assuming a greater priority.

One such market is Morocco in North Africa, a francophone country but one where the youth population is rapidly adopting English language, facilitated by increased access to internet, language apps and private language schools.

What many people probably don’t appreciate about Morocco is its growing status as an economic and cultural bridge between Europe and Africa, and its importance as an international education market – being the second largest sender of international students on the continent of Africa (behind only Nigeria) and with an increasingly favourable demand environment for TNE.

A rapidly expanding HE system, facing significant challenges.

While the Moroccan higher education system is expanding rapidly, a new British Council report identifies several issues it faces, including high dropout rates among the open access courses at public universities, courses not matching labour market requirements, and employer dissatisfaction with graduates’ underdeveloped soft skills and foreign language competency (English and French).

Focus groups conducted with Moroccan students found that the international recognition and prestige of a UK degree is seen as opening job opportunities for students internationally but providing a competitive edge in the Moroccan labour market, especially among multinational companies. Certainly, this interest in UK degrees can be seen via the growth in recruitment from Morocco in recent years, albeit from a low base.

This naturally raises the prospect of UK universities offering their degrees in Morocco. The report finds that TNE in Morocco is small in scale and is developing outside a formal regulatory framework. Seven French HEIs are active in the market, four of which (all engineering schools) having gained official recognition from the Moroccan state. Cardiff Metropolitan University is the only UK university with a TNE presence, operating via a longstanding franchise partnership with a local private provider. However, Coventry University is advancing towards establishment of a campus in Casablanca offering a range of undergraduate programmes, and a joint school of health sciences in Ben Guerir – both via partnerships with local HEIs.

Challenges facing TNE

Despite recent momentum, TNE is facing several challenges in Morocco. Absence of a formal TNE regulatory framework presents a legal void for foreign universities seeking to establish a presence in Morocco, with the current system seen as difficult to navigate and uncertain as to whether TNE qualifications would be officially recognised. And while English is growing in popularity, French will remain the de facto official language of business and is widely used in public administration; France is also the destination for over half of Morocco’s outbound students. Furthermore, the extent of the prospective TNE market is constrained by the dominance of the public HE sector, where tuition is free. Prospective demand for an individual UK TNE entrant is more likely hundreds rather than thousands of students.

Opportunities point to unlocked potential

Overall, there is much to be optimistic about, notably on the English language front. A growing trend towards English in Morocco is driven by growth in the number of international schools, linguistic demands from the growing multinational sector, and socio-cultural trends among the youth.

Beyond Morocco being a politically and economically stable country, several market trends and dynamics favour the development of TNE in Morocco. Parents are increasingly investing in their children’s education, supported by increased access to credit from financial institutions; a favourable climate and low cost of living make Morocco attractive for expatriate teaching faculty; and proximity to the UK.

Several entry routes, but TNE law needed for regulatory clarity

The research finds that optimal entry routes for UK universities include establishing a joint school with an existing Moroccan university or establishing a new private HEI, though the approval process is opaque. Light footprint TNE options include double degree and franchise partnerships, though non-recognition of qualifications via these models may affect demand. The game changer would be development of a TNE law; developments on this front should be closely monitored. In any case, identification of prospective partners and cultivation of relationships will prove key to achieving success and sustainability in Morocco. The time is ripe for UK universities to take a closer look at this increasingly important market.

About the author: John Mcnamara is Global Research Manager at the British Council.