A regional force in education, training, research and innovation

Heavy investment in universities, engineering schools, advanced specialized training and research centers has strengthened Morocco’s industries and the kingdom’s innovative capabilities.

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“Morocco is steadily becoming a regional hub for higher education, research and innovation,” Abdellah Benahnia, professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, revealed to University World News in a recent interview.


The country has attained that position through massive investment in its education, training and research capabilities—a process that started two decades ago with the goal of creating a deep talent pool of highly qualified, dynamic employees and research and development (R&D) talents that met the specific needs of industries based in the kingdom.


That goal has been achieved. Today, Morocco’s education sector consists of more than 420 higher education institutions and over 2,000 public and private vocational training centers, with in excess of 45,000 educators employed in the country. Every year, Morocco produces over 150,000 graduates from its higher education courses and 200,000 from vocational learning studies. The kingdom also currently boasts around 1,500 researchers per million inhabitants, totaling more than 50,000.


But the government wants to go further and has committed to raising tertiary education levels within its young population, 12 million of whom are under the age of 20 today. By 2025, it wants 50 percent of 19- to 23-year olds to be enrolling in further education, up from 12 percent in 2019. The government is also working to increase spend on R&D from 0.75 percent of gross domestic product in 2016 to 1.5 percent in 2025.

“There’s no limit to a business’ ability to grow in Morocco: from manufacturing to engineering design, you can easily find staff who are well educated.”

Mohamed Benajiba, managing director of Vita Couture

The exceptional, targeted education and training already provided in the country is a major draw for international investors, says Mohamed Benajiba, managing director of Vita Couture, a cutting-edge player in the textile sector: “There’s no limit to a business’ ability to grow in Morocco: from manufacturing to engineering design, you can easily find staff who are well educated and can be trained to achieve any level of quality or international standard.”


That opinion is backed up by Gideon Jewel, president of global just-in-time operations at the automotive-technology giant Lear Corporation, one of a number of multinationals—including Oracle, Stellantis and Capgemini—that have chosen to set up R&D centers in the kingdom, as well as production facilities: “We have tremendous respect for the workers that we’ve managed to hire, attract and train within Morocco. The education system, and everything else that we’re engaging with, shows us that there’s not just short-term potential for Lear here, we really have a long-term future together with Morocco.”


Two of Morocco’s many sector-specific training institutes illustrate how Morocco is driving up its human capacities in collaboration with industrial operators. Set up in 2011 at the Midparc industrial zone near Casablanca, the Moroccan Aerospace Institute (IMA) has trained more than 10,000 aeronautic-industry employees over the last 10 years and has been a key instrument in Morocco doubling its revenues in the aerospace sector to around $2 billion between 2014 and 2021. “We recruit staff at a well-qualified level initially and they then undertake a three-month training program at the IMA. The pass rate is normally about 80 percent and the ones that get through end up being very successful,” enthuses Stephen Orr, vice president and general manager at Spirit AeroSystems Morocco.

The Institute for Vocational Training for the Automotive Industry, on the other hand, comprises three independent centers in Casablanca, Kénitra and Tangier, plus one that is dedicated to training the employees of French car manufacturer Renault. The institution also has a partnership with multinational vehicle manufacturer Stellantis, which has led to the training of more than 5,900 professionals since 2017.


A relatively new initiative to further develop industrial-centric education is the Cities of Trade and Skills (CMC) project, launched in 2019, which aims to provide all 12 regions of Morocco with dedicated areas for upskilling, with the goal of training 34,000 professionals a year. The centers will host around 2,000 educators, offer 46 courses and around $336 million has been mobilized to construct the sites, with building activities beginning in September 2021. Based on each region’s strengths, the CMC facilities will target training in the following clusters: agri-business, tourism and hospitality, healthcare, green industries, logistics, digital technologies and personal services.


Over the last two decades, the country has also established a wide variety of flagship, industry-focused and research-intensive universities, engineering schools and research institutes. As well as developing world-class skills businesses require for current and future challenges, these institutions’ innovation capabilities have gained international recognition. Last year, for instance, Morocco was named as an associated country for the European Union’s $95-billion Horizon 2021-2027 research and innovation funding program.


Just one example of these institutions and how they have embraced cooperation with industry is the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), which has particular strengths in areas like data science and artificial intelligence (AI). The university’s successful research partnership with Oracle was one of the key reasons for the software multinational’s recent decision to open an advanced Oracle Labs R&D center in Morocco, for instance.  And this year, UM6P announced a comprehensive R&D partnership with ALPHA10X, an award-winning U.S.-based AI startup, which is establishing a physical base at the university’ campus to work on the joint development of projects.


In a press release to mark the announcement, ALPHA10X’s CEO Robert Marcus said: “We’re excited to invest in Africa and to partner with UM6P. Highly educated, determined risk takers around the world, including Morocco, are proving that they can innovate as aggressively, create as ingeniously and work as hard as their contemporaries in more mature innovation hubs.”