Science and technology in Morocco

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Interior of the Al-Karaouine mosque and university.

Science and technology in Morocco has significantly developed in recent years. The Moroccan government has been implementing reforms to encourage scientific research in the Kingdom. While research has yet to acquire the status of a national priority in Morocco, the country does have major assets that could transform its R&D sector into a key vehicle for development. The industry remains dominated by the public sector, with the universities employing 58% of researchers. Morocco’s own evaluation of its national research system – carried out in 2003 – revealed that the country has a good supply of well trained high quality human resources and that some laboratories are of very high quality.[1] However, the greatest gap at that point of time lied in the link between research and innovation. The educational qualifications of Moroccan researchers have increased significantly since the early 1990s.[2] The University of Al-Karaouine is considered the oldest continuously operating academic degree-granting university in the world, by the Guinness Book of Records.[3]

National policy[edit]

The national system of scientific and technical research in Morocco is guided by different elements, such as the pronouncements of the king, reports of special commissions, five-year plans, and the creation of a special programme for the support of research. While spending on education has hitherto been relatively high (5% of GDP and 24% of government expenditures in recent years[4]), change has been slow in coming. A royally designated "decade of education" was kicked off in Morocco in 1999 with the publishing of the National Charter for Education and Training, a road map to sector reform. As a result, literacy for men aged 15–24 has risen from 84% in 1990 to 87% in 2008, according the World Bank, while the percentage of all students completing primary school rose from 82% to 87% over the same period.

The Moroccan government’s Five- Year Plan for 2000-2004 articulated the priority lines for research. The declared objectives of this plan were to align S&T research with socio-economic development priorities.[1] Sectors declared as priority areas were: agriculture, fisheries, drinking water, geology, mining, energy, environment, information and telecommunications technologies, and transport.[1] This approach highlighted the need for effective institutional coordination, which enabled different parties to work together around common priority socioeconomic objectives. In 2002, 89% of the 542 researchers in a sample comprising INRA, INRH, IAV Hassan II, ENFI, and ENA were trained to the postgraduate level, and 34% held doctorate degrees.[2]

In 2009 Morocco has announced new support for scientific research including strengthening scientific infrastructure and giving universities more power.[5] As part of the National Education Emergency Support Programme 2009-12, the Moroccan government has signed DH12.6bn (€1.1bn) in new agreements to improve the quality of its universities.[6][7] This extra investment comes as the number of students in the science and engineering fields is expected to double by 2012, along with the number of those passing the baccalaureate exam after high school, additionally the country seeks to meet its UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The project will range from hiring additional lecturers and raising teaching credentials to expanding general infrastructure. The government has targeted accrediting 92% of its universities as research institutions by 2012, compared to 69% in 2008.[4]

Technopolis Project[edit]

In 2005 the Moroccan king launched Technopolis Rabat,[8] with the aim of creating 12,000-15,000 high-end jobs[8][9] by 2016. The first phase was completed in 2006. The science park holds separate engineering, high-tech, colleges and R&D spaces.[10] Several companies have started operating in the park, including Nemotek Technologie, EDS-HP,[11] Cleanroom,[12] Alcatel[11] and many others. In 2009 Technopolis Oujda started construction,[13][14] the first phase is to be completed in 2011.[13] The technopolis includes four main components: “CleanTech” industrial and logistical park, a services center (off-shoring and services), a commercial platform (retail park and showrooms), and a training campus.[13] The project is expected to create 20,000 job opportunities.

Only six African countries (Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Madagascar, Tunisia and South Africa) have initiated programmes of technology parks as an integral strategy of their sustainable development.

Research industry[edit]

An overview of Moroccan researchers by scientific field.

The private sector is the least active player in research activity in Morocco. The REMINEX Corporation(Research on Mines and Exploitation) is the most prominent research performer in the private sector,[1] and is a subsidiary of Omnium Nord Africain, the largest privately owned mining group in Morocco. Nemotek Technologie is also a big private player. The most recent figures available on the number of research staff in Morocco are those provided by the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, Professional Training and Scientific Research in its 2002-2003 annual report. According to this report, Morocco had 17 390 research staff in 2002-2003.[1] The majority (58%) were employed in the university sector. Total agricultural researcher numbers in Morocco increased gradually throughout the 1980s and 1990s, while total agricultural R&D expenditures fluctuated somewhat erratically.[2]

Institutions[edit]

Research institutions include the Scientific Institute, founded in 1920 in Rabat, which does fundamental research in the natural sciences,[15] and the Scientific Institute of Maritime Fishing, founded in 1947, in Casablanca, which studies oceanography, marine biology, and topics related to development of the fishing industry.[15] Nine universities and colleges offer degrees in basic and applied sciences. In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 41% of college and university enrollments. Under the 2009 initiative by the Moroccan government, universities will be made financially independent from the government to make them more responsive to research needs and better able to forge links with the private sector.[5] A total of 17 agreements were signed to develop Moroccan universities, as part of the 2009-2012 emergency program[16] which aims at reforming the country's ailing educational system and fostering a culture of entrepreneurship in the academic community.

The University of Al-Karaouine is a university located in Fes. Founded in 859, as a madrasah,[17] the university is one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world.

International co-operation[edit]

The Morocco-US science and technology cooperation plan, signed in 2006 in Rabat, promotes the exchange of innovative scientific ideas, information and knowledge, skills and techniques and the training of technical experts. It also allows for joint scientific and technological projects, conferences and workshops.[18]

Apart from the S&T agreement with the United States,[18] Morocco has S&T agreements with its regional neighbour Tunisia[19] and countries related to its historical heritage (France, Belgium and Spain).[1] Many Moroccan scientists received training in France or are performing research in collaboration with French scientists. In 2009 Morocco and South Korea have agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of ICT and cyber security.[20] Morocco also signed an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation with Turkey.[21]

In June 2009 a NASA scientific mission, including six Moroccan experts, has started a visit to Morocco with the aim of integrating Moroccan researchers into the global climate change initiative, Space Weather.[22]

References[edit]