AGADIR—Abdel Raheem Talby, a 23-year-old student of social sciences at Ibn Zuhr University, in Southern Morocco, has more to worry about than his grades and his exams.
He is one of the many Moroccan students who has moved to a new city to pursue his studies, but has been unable to find a spot in overcrowded university dormitories. “I have to look for new accommodation each semester,” he says. “Usually accommodation is far from the university campus, and quite expensive, so I keep moving from one place to another hoping I might get psychological stability, especially before the exams.”
Abdel Raheem is lucky compared to Rokaya, 22, who is from a remote area thousands of kilometers from the university. “After failing to find a place in the dorms, I rented a flat close to my university, but my educational journey did not last long,” she says. “Robbers broke into my room and I had to go back to my family without completing my education.” After the burglary, her father was nervous about letting her live alone or even with other female students.
Hanan, an English literature student, was hospitalized and failed the semester as her apartment contract expired just before the final exam, and she could not find an alternative place at a reasonable price. Mohamed Al-Basty, deputy manager of the dormitories and head of the Economic Authority in Agadir, in southern Morocco, said the problem stems from the huge number of incoming students at Ibn Zuhr University—96,000 —compared to the 1,540 dormitory beds available for them.
Even as enrollment has steadily increased across the country, not enough student housing has been built, renovated or expanded, officials say. During a parliament hearing last year, the Moroccan government promised to increase the capacity of university dorms in the academic year of 2015/2016 by 50 percent, and to maintain and renovate the dorms in the cities of Agadir, Al-Nazour, Marakesh, Satat, Tazah, Tatwan, and Asfy.
Sahnon Kabour, secretary general of the National Moroccan Student Union, says “the problem of university dorms is similar to the problem of the number of available places in Moroccan universities, and the number of professors, which are both too small compared to what is needed. This is due to the failure of state policies to manage higher education in general.”
Admission to the dorms is based on family income, the academic performance of the student, and sometimes the geographical location.
“The state imposes strict conditions to limit the number of those qualified to benefit from the dorms,” says Kabour,“and as a result a huge number of students have to rent apartments in surrounding areas, which is quite a burden on students, especially those coming from low-income families.”
Ahmed Al-Rokery, director of SOS for Social, a foundation established to support economic housing, says the state should encourage the private sector to invest in building student housing. The state has to provide incentives and tax exemptions to encourage these investments, he says.
Even when a student manages to find a bed in the dorms, he or she may not gain peace of mind. Saeed Zeouh, a 21-year-old student from Southern Morocco, recounts: “This semester I was attacked by a gang of robbers inside the dorms, who broke into my room and burned some of my belongings during a confrontation between different student groups, and I had to leave the dorms that night.”
Leftist and Islamist student groups sometimes clash on university campuses here, and those conflicts can affect dormitory life. Ezz El-Din, who refused to give his full name, says that “during violent confrontation inside the dorms between student groups we sometimes have to leave the dorms for weeks and stay with our friends until matters settle down.” Police forces may storm campuses and dorms to quell student conflicts and protests.
Many students enroll in university but continue living with their families far away from campus, missing lectures and only traveling to the university for exams.
Several visits to students in their rooms documented their ordeal of poor living conditions, the greed of brokers, the expensive water and electricity bills and the overcrowdedness of the rooms.
Ashraf is sharing a small flat with three other students just 3 kilometers from the university. The flat has three dark rooms without windows. They share the bathroom and the kitchen. Their water, electricity and rent total around 1,000 dirhams ($100) a month, a lot for students. “We are living far away from the university, but far away from the university but it’s calm and safe area too,” Ashraf said.
“The environment in Moroccan dorms is not conducive to learning,” says Kabour, “from the unhygienic restaurants, which many students refrain from using because of the poor quality of meals, to the lack of medical services, to the lack of security.”
Whether students are living on campus in dorms or off campus in apartments and rooms, they are often distracted by housing problems. Ahmed Al-Rokary asks “How can we expect students who live in such terrible conditions to focus on their studies?”