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Moroccan medical students protest privatization of medical education

The government’s decision to privatize medical education has caused protests among medical students in public schools that have been ongoing since late March.

“Our goal is not to organize a march; it’s to find a solution,” says Saad Mazouni, a medical student from Marrakesh, Morocco. He is one of 18,000 Moroccan medical students entering the third month of their strike, which began on March 25. They are protesting privatization of medical education and recent reforms to the medical education system in Morocco.

Public medical students, who organize through a national commission of which Mazouni is part, released a list of 14 demands. Describing the state of public medical education, he says, “Students no longer see their future; it’s completely black.”

The availability of residency is one of the students’ central concerns. Private medical students are currently allowed to specialize through residencies in public hospitals, making it nearly impossible for public medical students to complete their residencies and specialize. “The real problem is privatization. We want to protect our rights to access specialization and residency,” says Mazouni.

A student organizer from Fez noted, “We are not against the private students.” 

Students described private medical students as “our brothers.” Among their demands related to privatization, medical students also demand financial compensation for their residency and a review of the seventh year, during which students carry out internships in peripheral hospitals around Morocco. 

Morocco’s first private medical schools opened in 2016. Unlike public medical schools, they do not have university hospitals for students to complete residencies, and some argue that the universities’ founders are more interested in profit than in educating health care professionals.

This is not the first time in recent history that Moroccan medical students have protested. In 2015, students boycotted their courses and internships in protest of a government plan that would have created a mandatory civil service program. The proposal was eventually dropped after an agreement was signed with then Minister of Health Houssaine Louardi and then Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi, who agreed to implement a new program that integrated students’ feedback. Since then, the students regularly requested meetings with the ministers to follow up on its implementation — without success. 

And so, the students launched their boycott. One organizer explains, “Students decided to boycott classes, internships and our yearly exams to express our problems and ask the responsible people how they plan to resolve them.”

Each of Morocco’s nine faculties for public medical education has three elected representatives in the National Commission responsible for representing their peers and negotiating with the government. The representatives attend meetings with ministers and organize sit-ins and marches — they have held two national marches and a sit-in, along with regional marches, since the protests began.

Decision-making takes places in general assemblies at each faculty. “We have this collective conscious; this is what makes the force of our movement and our legitimacy,” says Mazouni. He explains that the organization has three pillars: its legitimacy to represent medical students, its independence, and the belief that these are academic rights and not political ones. “We are independent, not partisan. We represent medical students,” says the student organizer from Fez.

Along with expressing their demands through sit-ins and marches, Moroccan medical students have turned to social media, using the hashtag #DoctorsUnderOppression to speak out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The students who spoke with Al-Monitor believe their movement sets an example of a way to protest that is civil and citizen-based, without fear or intimidation from its organizers.

Earlier in the spring, the government released an agreement to the students, who then voted to accept or reject it in general assemblies. Over 70% of students participated in the vote; 91% of students rejected the agreement, choosing to strike for their annual exams in June. The agreement responded to the majority of the students’ 16 exams. But it did not reconcile the issue of private students completing residencies in public hospitals — a central concern — nor did it address changes to the sixth year of dental school. 

On June 10, the day of the exam, the faculties were empty — even the proctors didn’t come. But boycotting the yearly exam raises the possibility of “une annee blanche,” a year that students will need to repeat. “Medical school is very long — a lost year will make it even harder,” says Mazouni, echoing the concerns of many public medical students. Students hope the government will allow a retake of the exams later in the summer. “We want to return, on the condition that we have communicated our rights,” insists Mazouni.

Three professors have been suspended for expressing solidarity with the students, and while students were never forbidden from marching nationally, they have sometimes faced opposition from local authorities.

When medical students from Agadir tried to travel to Rabat to march, police questioned them in train and bus stations and some transport companies refused to take them — a move that one student described as “violating our right of movement.” Still, both Mazouni and the student from Fez emphasize the students’ openness to dialogue with current Minister of Health Anas Doukkali and Minister of Higher Education Said Amzazi.

“We are a little tired and stressed, but I’m very optimistic,” says Mazouni, adding, “We are going to change the reality of higher medical education in Morocco.” 

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