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MOROCCO: Many elite Arabs opt for American-style education, moving away from the French mold


The 259 students who graduated this year from the Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco’s only English-language college, are practically guaranteed a job -- unlike those Moroccans who went through the country’s French-inspired education system.

Commencement weekend at AUI, as it is commonly known, is not a very Moroccan affair. The atmosphere at the campus, set amid the pine and cedar forests of the Mid-Atlas mountain range, is part Swiss ski village, part Ivy League college. The university is in Ifrane, a mountain resort originally built for the French colonial elite wishing to escape the summer heat of Casablanca and Rabat. On a recent weekend in June, it was beset by a different kind of elite: AUI’s class of 2010 and their proud parents.

It was quickly obvious from the speeches that AUI did things the American way. 

“AUI gives you not just a degree but a whole new personality,” said alumni President Khalid Baddou. 

“AUI is more than a university; it is a community with an amazing culture. Here, you are given the weapons to face the real world with,” said science and engineering graduate Ahmad Arjdane.


 The underlying message was loud and clear: This is what you miss out on if you study at traditional French-inspired universities in Morocco.

“I lost all hope with the French system while I was in high school,”  said Fahd El Hassan, a 2009 graduate. “It is all about memorizing, not about learning.”

El Hassan was invited to speak at this year’s commencement because he had won third place in the 2008 Imagine Cup, a student competition organized by Microsoft and Unesco to further sustainable businesses through technology. This year’s AUI graduates included winners of the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarschip and the Google Computer Excellence Award in computer science.

"Morocco has long been handicapped because it has been so oriented toward Europe and France," said the dean of the science and engineering school, Ahmed Legrouri. "Let’s face it: Where can you go with just French these days? France, Switzerland and Belgium? Even in France, technical publications are in English these days.”

Morocco-auiThe former Moroccan king, Hassan II -- although himself a strong Francophile -- was among the first to stress the need for Moroccans to learn English to help ensure international success. Fate lent a helping hand. In 1995, Morocco’s beaches were threatened by an oil spill from a foreign tanker off the coast. The oil eventually drifted away, but by then king Fahd of Saudi Arabia had written a $50-million check to come to Morocco’s aid. The money was used to found AUI.

The university likes to boast that Moroccan employers are falling over themselves to hire AUI graduates. A recent survey by the alumni association said 98% of AUI graduates had found a job, started a business or were working a master's degree within six months of graduation.

This is in stark contrast to other Moroccan universities, some of whose graduates have been demonstrating every day for months in front of the parliament building in the capital, Rabat, demanding to be given jobs. Passersby sometimes make snide remarks about these demonstrators, saying graduates think a university degree automatically entitles a person to a government job.

"Like in many developing countries, it was long policy in Morocco that college graduates were given government jobs straight out of school," said AUI alumni President Baddou. "It was part of an internal security strategy at the time."

Moroccans also have learned the value of learning English. Moroccans initially missed the boat of the economic boom in the Persian Gulf countries because French was of no use in Dubai or Kuwait. Now, English is becoming a requirement in Morocco. Even some French companies in Morocco require that employees know English.

“The demand for an institution like ours is insatiable for the moment," said Simon O'Rourke, AUI’s American communications director. “We are the only one to offer the overall college experience."

-- Gert van Langendonck in Rabat, Morocco

Photos: Graduation day at AUI in Ifrane, Morocco, a bastion of American-style education. Credit: Gert van Langendonck / Special to The Times

Comments () | Archives (41)

Interesting article! Thanks for writing and publishing this.

It also illustrates the importance of the English language, and the disservice we do to our nation by catering to people who come here illegally and refuse to learn it. When you call a government office in California, you should never have to "press 1 for English."

While some of the university students may be wealthy, I have had to the chance to interact with many of them during a study abroad program a couple years ago. All of my friends that I made there were greatly concerned with the plight of the oppressed in their own kingdom and were making plans to help these people upon graduation. Of course, there were a few rich kids coasting through that make the university as a whole look bad, but I didn't associate with them. Blanket statements never work in any situation.

I am sure all of them will make great translators for the US armed services.
Seriously though, it's amazing how social inequalities are perpetuated for eternity with the "genius" ideas of the wealthy. If these kings and leaders were truly discerning, they would make good education available to ALL. Go on right ahead and just make the same mistakes that are made in countries where ivy leaguers are the 'elite'.

I think that the Moroccan youth are very smart and talented. Even from the weak public education we saw many fabulous students and elites. So if we just have the desire to change the education system and not to make complicated we will have more genious graduate students. I'm afraid that the Moroccan gov still live in the stone age and don't want all moroccans to succeed in education. It's simple as 0+0= nothing, the problem is not only relieng too much on French but also too much school materials. We all know that come on let people succeed and love to go to school.
I'm personally shocked when I compared by self and Americans here, I found out I'm better educated and I've been in public schools in morocco. I'm not genious"all I got in high school was"p" I'm getting an excellent grade now in my American college. For you to comment why al akhayan is doing better than others!!

It's simple

as simple as this...PROUD TO BE AUIer!!!

Yes, it is the university of the Moroccan elite; however, the elite is more elitist in education and upbringing that money.. The parents of these kids either had the vision to place their kids in this school, had the ability to sell their holiday house to send their kid off to school, were themselves self-made doctors or teachers with parents with that same open vision or simply very rich to afford such education. Being rich does not guarantee you a student place in this institution.
It is inferred in your article that French education is not as good as this American-style education, nah ah.. disagree.. Real French education background in Morocco provides an edge to students who integrate into this university.. Statistics show that most students who studied at AUI and were prior in the Bordeaux affiliated system (Lycee Descartes, Lycee Lyautey) do much better and without any difficulty in their academic performance in this institution.. The gist of this: When you refer to ‘French’ education, you are referring to ‘pseudo French’ education in Morocco.
Last, while this institution is good compared to other schools in Morocco, it is not challenged by any competitor. It is not run by Americans or British people. It is run by Moroccans who learned things in the Moroccan way and who have gaps in leadership skills as such. AUI is not like the American University in Beirut or the American University in Cairo where publications and translations thrive.. It still has a long way to go before it combines good ‘image’ with real academic ‘performance’. How? By letting the academics run the academia and valuing educators the very same way students are in this institution.
While all other schools in Morocco hire tenure track faculty, this institution is the only school who does not provide such opportunity to its teachers, making them relentlessly go over yearly, bi-yearly or at best tertiar-yearly contracts. It does not capitalize on research as an assessment tool for tenuring teachers. Tenure is simply inexistent in this school and the result, is an ongoing conflict of interests between the academia’s vision and the administration’s vision.
Yet, overall, it is not that bad as a school.. It is anyway better than private English system schools in metropolitan cities in Morocco who cram their students in small buildings, barely provide any recreation facilities to the students, barely provide any cafeterias on board, barely provide any exchange opportunities to their students, and on the other hand expect their money coffers to be full.
In short, AUI is the best that you can have now in Morocco but it could be better. The overall level of education in Morocco needs to be leveraged so that the school creates better products. When an authentic American accredited school opens its doors in this North African country, the real image of this school will be conferred.
Last, thanks for the article!!

I'm really offended by this article

A very good article. Like it or not, the kingdom of Morocco is considered as an Arab country all around the world. Get over it, With all due respect to all Amazighe, and chlouh...
AUI is a place where you can get a great education, and great parties. I only have one concerns, as it is an American style school, but mostly all the students when I was there spoke French......Go figure. As for my experience, I was unable to get a job when I graduated, I had to get a tourist visa come to the US, and enrolled at UC San Diego, and I am doing my master's in Bio-medical engineering. Though I am glad my school got mentioned in a US newspaper.

A university for the children of the elite, no more no less. The very same families that have sucked the blood out of the poor Moroccans since 1956, the very same families that established a poor educational system for every one else while they sent their children to Europe and the US. So they basically created a new university for them close to home so they don't have to go very far. The rest of the poor Moroccans are still struggling in public transportation and over-crowded university halls.

As for the quality of the educational system, I have yet to read a research study or a scientific breakthrough coming out of the walls of AUI. I don't believe it is the University of the bright and the talented but rather for the rich and the well connected.

When Morocco establishes universities in the caliber of India Institutes of Technology where the real computer scientists and the real fortune 5oo CEOs come out of, then come talk to me. As for now, AUI serves only the happiness and the comfort of the elite.


Great university, Great atmosphere, a lot to learn for young Moroccans aspiring to a better future in the global mareket place. What is fantastic is that all of this is right in the middle of the Atlas, such a pride for us Moroccans...

I want to reply to Jany's post :
I am not from a rich family, and I had the chance and the opportunity to study at AUI... I graduated many years ago, and I am now enjoying my career. Believe it or not, rich "bling bling" kids are a minority at AUI, there were lots of students who got scholarships or loans! AUI is a great exemple of how American system can help people success in their academic and professional life... That's absolutly not the case of French business schools that are exclusively meant for a wealthy elite!
And yes, wealthy does not mean thief!!!

I don't see why people are saying that the university is exclusively enjoyed by the Moroccan "elite". Oh, and better than that: enjoyed by the Moroccan thieves.
I agree that the fees are high, and that they cannot be afforded by poor people, but a lot of scholarships are offered, and also possibilities to get student loans, like in all other good universities. A lot of people are coming from a very poor family that get only the minimum salary to survive, but they are still there thanks to their efforts and their good will. Other students who come from richer families are not necessarily "sons of thieves". There is always this association made between rich and wrong. What's wrong in being rich? Are all rich people thieves? Are all poor people "unjustly" poor?
I think that it's time to stop judging only the bad aspects of society, and work for a better education for everyone. I agree that rich people have more chance to afford to pay such high fees, but chances to get a full scholarship are very high too. So all what Moroccan people have to do is work hard, and hope to get such a good education in such a good university!

You answered your question! Of course this university is for the elite. The children of the Moroccan thieves/elite are enjoying a good education that is paid by the poor. chame on them! Then they want to be Americans after all????

An important question is not answered in this post (very interesting, though): what are the fees for these "American" scholarships?
ie. are these universities only accessible to rich Moroccons?
I guess so...

I just want to thank the writer of this article. It is a great article that make AUI a more known university. I agree with Mohammed that Morocco has a high number of Amzighes (berbers is an offensive word by the way), but still the constitution of Morocco state that the Country is an Arab country, so no need to get into unecessary details. Concerning the comment of Meriem, I want to make something clear, the only Americain University in Morocco is Al Akhawayn University because an americain system is not about teaching in English but it about the whole experience. Therefore, teaching in english does not make it an Americain University; in my point of view, all the other institutions are French institutions teaching in English. Concerning the comment of the1kid, I graduated in December and I started working two months later, and most of my class graduates are either working or about to start their master degrees.

There are so many wrongs with this article!
You haven't even provided any proof that these graduates are really getting jobs right out of college.

I stay in hostels when traveling Europe. I meet people from all over the world--Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Greenland, etc. And no one speaks each others language, but the one common language is English--simple as that. English is spoken by more people on Earth next to Mandarin, but English is far and away the most widely spoken. So, I tip my hat to these students!

I would like to emphasize that not all Moroccans are Arabs, the majority are Berbers or "Amazigh".

I am an AUI graduated student. I am Moroccan but I am not Arab. It has nothing to do with being against the Arabs or any other race in the world. It's just another ethnicity that forms the majority of the population in the country. Even the president of AUI is a Berber.

Thank you for taking this note into consideration.

The article is great! It's true, AUI gives you more than a degree.

Your reference to AUI as "Morocco’s only English-language college" can be unwittingly misleading.

English programs namely English/American literature,English linguistics,Media studies have always been taught in Moroccan universities. In Rabat, there is a Media college where English is the only instruction medium. The Engineers school in Mohamedia also use English as a teaching language.

What differs AUI is the diversity of programs thaught in English like Business Administration.

But Morocco'institutions and the private sector are still predominantly French. Thus,an English-only degree can be a disadvantage. French is essential for working in Banks,Insurance companies,Telecom companies,Airlines that are all French-staffed.

Am Moroccan but jewish in ethnicity and muslimah by religion,how about that !!? :)

Great Article ! I'm really proud to be an AUI student !

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