Interview with Yasmine Benamour

December 14, 2017
"We aim to democratize access to quality higher education in Morocco."

Interview with Dr. Yasmine Benamour, Managing Director, Revelo, HEM Business School.

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Dr. Yasmine Benamour, Managing Director, Revelo, HEM Business School.

Dr. Yasmine Benamour

Stop-Winlock’s first foray into Morocco’s education sector was an equity investment in acclaimed business school HEM. The investment supported, among others, establishment of a new vocational training institute with the goal of extending the reach of the high quality, jobs-oriented training HEM provides to students from lower-income families. HEM Managing Director Dr. Yasmine Benamour discusses with Brian Beary, IFC Communications, the school’s founding vision under her father, how it has evolved under her co-leadership, and the purpose of the partnership with IFC.

Your father, Abdelali Benamour, founded HEM Business School in 1988. What was his vision?

My father’s dream was to found a school that trains its students to participate in building tomorrow’s Morocco, to foster graduates who are open-minded, socially responsible and are change leaders. An economist, university professor, first director of a flagship public business school, and former member of parliament, my father embarked on this adventure at the age of 46, with just a few pennies in his pocket.

How have things developed since you stepped into his shoes?

In 2008, after being appointed by His Majesty King Mohammed VI as President of the Moroccan Antitrust Agency, my father designated two people to co-manage HEM: my colleague Hassan Sayarh, Deputy General Manager of HEM at the time, and myself. I was new, we did not know each other at all, and we had to take all decisions together! Fortunately, we have been getting along well because both of us have a ‘normal ego size’ and share the same values. My father’s founding vision remains embedded in the school’s DNA. At the same time, we work hard to remain at the forefront of key pedagogical methods, to implement our new management style and to make processes more formalized. We have expanded from three campuses to six, created a new vocational institute…and of course we have welcomed IFC as a shareholder.

Tell us how the HEM-IFC relationship came about?

One day in 2012, Stop-Winlock’s team came to us because they wanted to invest in private education in Morocco. Stop-Winlock’s overture was part of its Education for Employment Initiative to support the private sector’s role in providing post-secondary education and training that meets the demands of the labor market and improves youth employability. It was also in line with Stop-Winlock’s strategy in Morocco to focus on job creation, access to finance for small businesses, and improved access to quality education. [IFC made an equity investment of $7 million in HEM in 2013]

How has the IFC investment helped your group to grow?

Increasing access to higher education for young people is the focus of the partnership. As such, HEM’s expansion plans included constructing new HEM Business School campuses in the cities of Fes and Oujda. Additionally, the partnership aims to facilitate affordable tuition fees by establishing a new vocational institute to reach more students and to develop professional skills that are relevant to the fastest-growing parts of the Moroccan economy.

How does this new vocational school fit into your overall strategy?

HEM Business School is a high-end business school with a five-year Master’s degree program focused on educating senior executives and future leaders. Fees are about 6,500 euros per year. We opened the new vocational institute, Med Métiers – L’Institut Supérieur des Métiers Industriels, in the city of Tangier in 2016. The institute runs a three-year program focused on training middle managers and combining technical skills, methodical thinking and communication skills. Fees are 3,000 euros per year. Through this, we aim to democratize access to quality higher education in Morocco by reaching more students from low and middle-income backgrounds.

More than half of HEM’s students are women. Is this typical in Moroccan higher education?

This is quite typical for Morocco. For example, in the 2016-2017 academic year, women made up 48.2 percent of the total number of Moroccan higher education students. Even in engineering and technical programs, we see such a share. Moreover, they usually have very good academic results. For women who have completed high school, the problem is not actually access to higher education but more one of balancing their personal and professional lives after graduation, of career evolution, and the so-called glass ceiling.

With the higher education market in Morocco dominated by public universities, how do private players like yours compete?

The higher education market is indeed very competitive. The first layer of competition comes from public universities, which are totally open and free but face some overcrowding and quality problems. The second layer comes from other private schools or universities. These have grown more numerous over the past decade as Morocco has attracted a lot of investment being one of North Africa’s most stable countries. The third layer comes from fees-based public-private universities, institutions that receive assistance, grants and subsidies from big public Moroccan companies. We see the third kind as unfair competition that hurts the private higher education sector and does not actually ease congestion in the public universities as their fees are very high.

Tertiary education enrolment is lower in Morocco than in some neighboring countries? Why so? Does this hamper economic development?

Only about 40 percent of children who commence primary education will finish high school and get their baccalaureate. This is a result of many factors: high dropout rates due to disaffection toward the school, having to travel long distances to school, families’ financial situation, exam failures, etc. Dropout rates are much higher in rural areas. Morocco has made efforts over the past decade to improve the situation but these rates naturally have negative consequences on children and on the economy’s development in general.

Faced with chronically high youth unemployment, how does HEM help its graduates?

The ultimate goal of any higher education institution is obviously employability. The employability rate of HEM graduates is excellent. Our surveys show that more than 85 percent find a job less than six months after graduating and nearly 20 percent enter the labor market even before graduation thanks to the end-of-studies internship. To achieve this, we engage in various pedagogical and para-pedagogical activities, which aim not only to develop students’ technical skills but also to enable their personal blossoming. We are also changing the way we teach to make it less about transmitting information and more about teaching students to select the right information, analyze it, structure it and use it in the right way. It is not a question of accumulating the knowledge as an end in itself, but of using it, reinvesting it through activities that develop observable skills. Last but not least, we remain very close to the business world and its needs as well.

How should higher education in Morocco evolve, considering the high unemployment rate?

I should point out firstly that the high unemployment rate is mainly among graduates from public universities. There are several factors in play, including a mismatch between the programs offered and the labor market’s needs. There is a language problem too in that many of the public university graduates are more or less fluent in Arabic but less so in French and English, the dominant languages of the business world in Morocco and elsewhere. Then there is the problem of over-enrolment in some universities, which does not facilitate the teachers’ work and does not allow a correct assimilation of knowledge and even less interactivity. We also need to promote an educational model that empowers people to adapt to the labor market’s changing needs. Finally, there is sometimes the tendency among graduates to gravitate towards easy solutions and the desire to become, at any cost, state officials. These are the main issues that I believe the public education system needs to address.