More than 600 engineers and 8,000 senior cadres leave Morocco each year, according to the Ministry of Education and the Moroccan Federation of Information Technologies. Although France has traditionally been favoured because of the historical links between the two countries, students and young professionals are increasingly choosing new destinations abroad.
In 2018 alone, almost 40,000 young Moroccans went to study in France, the biggest national contingent of foreign students there. In response, several prestigious French schools established outposts in Morocco itself, including ESSEC, EMLYON, Centrale, EIGSI and INSA.
The Moroccan government has also done its part by setting up the International Forum for Moroccan Competencies Abroad (FINCOME) to encourage young Moroccan professionals and academics working abroad to return to Morocco and join the higher education, scientific research and business sectors. The forum also aims to provide expertise in achieving development goals and strategies in various sectors, evaluating research projects and attracting investments and partnerships.
Yet these efforts have not reversed the exodus, as King Mohammed VI noted in August 2018: “Many young people in Morocco, especially university graduates in science and technology, are thinking of emigrating, not only because of the tempting material incentives abroad but also because they do not find in their country the appropriate conditions for employment, career advancement, innovation and scientific research…It is for the same reasons that a number of Moroccan students abroad are not returning to work in their country after completing their studies.”
Research conducted between December 2014 and February 2015 in the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) countries (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia), found a significant increase in the number of university graduates migrating abroad. They are currently estimated at 853,000 people compared with 585,000 in 2000, an increase of 31 per cent. It also found that Moroccans make up almost half (46 per cent) of AMU citizens living abroad. This is driven in part by Morocco’s high youth unemployment rate, which averaged 19.3 per cent between 1999 and 2019, reaching an all-time high of 29.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 and a record low of 13.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2006. It stood at 24.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2019.
The departure of highly trained or qualified people from a particular country or sector is called brain drain, although French anthropologist Michel Peraldi does not think the term applies in this case. “I think it’s more like brain circulation,” he told Fanack. “There was always training of executives and elites from Morocco in France, and some ‘evaporation’. Some remain there, some come back, others come back then leave for good again. It’s more like trans-nationalization of the elites than brain drain.”
For Moroccan professor Abdelhamid Nechad, the push factors for students and professionals are primarily internal. In an article published in the Journal of Economic and Social Development in March 2018, he lists these as: ‘Economic: the existence of an economic divide between the [global] North and the South; political: the lack of democratic mechanisms to ensure the equality of opportunity for all (meritocracy); professional: the inability of the national economy to meet the aspirations of those who have acquired high-level qualifications; total or partial unemployment, often attributable to the inadequate implementation of education, employment and science and technology policies; the failure of the entrepreneurial system whose main features are the little importance granted to research and development and the weak mentoring of Moroccan companies; the limited budget allocated to research: Morocco’s overall expenditure represents less than 0.3 per cent of GDP, well below the rates recorded in developed countries (2 per cent in EU countries); and the weak means of intellectual stimulation (laboratories, libraries, professional associations) coupled with bureaucratic inertia.’
But a new trend is emerging that could cause real brain drain, according to Peraldi. “More and more students want to avoid the filtering system set up in France and prefer going to England and the US or Canada where they will be recruited by big Qatari or Saudi companies to come work in these countries, especially in the banking environment. Others go to China to enjoy the possibility of international careers.”
France’s selection criteria make it hard to get into the best schools, and the university tuition fees for foreign students are set to increase dramatically in September 2019, rising from around 200 euros per year to between 2,770 and 3,770 euros per year.
“In France, there is a filtering system that is so violent and radical that, especially for the middle classes, it has become economically more viable to consider other options,” Peraldi said. “It’s not quantifiable yet as it is a new trend, but it’s significant. What I know for now is that the second country chosen by Moroccan students after France is Germany, that the first Maghreb nationality in England and the US is Moroccan, and that many medical students choose to study in Senegal where there is not the numerus clausus making it so hard in France.”
Numerus clausus limits the number of students admitted to different medical specialties, making it very hard for a first-year student to access the training of his or her choice.
It looks like Moroccan brain drain is becoming a reality as the labour market becomes increasingly internationalized, coupled with limited professional opportunities at home. If the country is unable to retain its skilled youth, its already struggling economy will face a bleak future.