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Moroccan graduates face bleak prospects

Protestors outside the parliament in Rabat

By James Copnall
BBC News, Rabat

Morocco has an unusual problem - the more educated you are, the harder it seems to be to get a job.

The overall unemployment rate is officially less than 10% - but the rate for graduates soars above this, and has sometimes been double.

Every day frustrated and highly educated young people gather outside parliament in the capital Rabat to shout out their frustration.

"I'm 35, I have a PhD in physics, and I can't get a job," complains Ali.

"I'm very old, I'm not married, I don't have my own house, I don't have anything.

"I'm thinking of leaving this country, because here I am nothing."

Entrepreneurs

Sometimes the protestors are chased away by riot police wielding truncheons.

The government is worried about the problem, and has set up a number of schemes to help graduates to find work.

Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light
Ali, physics graduate

One of them, known as moukawalati, aims to give government-backed loans to budding young entrepreneurs.

There are success stories.

Merieme, a 25-year-old woman, is the owner of a printing business.

Several gleaming new machines hum in the background as she explains how the scheme helped her to develop her business plan and convinced the bank to lend her money.

But Merieme's experience is far from universal.

Initially the target was to help 30,000 business people, and create 90,000 jobs.

Yet so far only 1,400 loans have been given out, and the government has had to scale back its targets.

Mistakes

The head of the state body that runs the scheme, Kamal Hafid, admitted to the BBC mistakes had been made.

But he said one of the main problems - with consequences stretching far beyond moukawalati - is that Morocco's school system is out of sync with today's job market.

Kamal Hafid, head of the state body that runs a scheme to get graduates into work
Kamal Hafid says Morocco's schools are out of sync with the job market

"The educational system must get better - that's obvious to everyone today," he said.

"But it will take time, there is a lot of work to be done.

"And we need to develop entrepreneurial spirit here in Morocco too."

Many of the unemployed graduates marching up and down outside parliament have turned down work in the private sector.

They want the security of a state job.

But as Mr Hafid points out, the state can only hope to create 15,000 new jobs a year, while in good times the private sector can produce up to 300,000.

Illegal migration

Nevertheless, the private sector often feels Moroccan graduates are poorly suited to the modern economy.

There are fears too about how the international financial crisis may affect Morocco.

There is a serious concern that young people here are an easy prey for extremists
Professor Lahcen Haddad

All this is having serious effects.

"There is a concern about illegal migration among young people, and about drugs," says university professor Lahcen Haddad.

"There is also a very serious concern about a lot of people being easy prey for extremists."

In 2003 11 young men blew themselves up in the economic capital Casablanca, killing themselves and 34 others.

Moroccans were also among those who carried out the Madrid bombings, and hundreds have fought in Iraq.

Typically these people have less formal education than the graduates demonstrating outside parliament.

Double-edged sword

Roughly half of Moroccans are illiterate - a shocking state of affairs in a country that is one of the most developed in Africa.

Morocco has a demographic problem too. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million young people will come onto the job market every year - and there is little chance all of them will find work.

"It is a double-edged sword," according to Mr Haddad.

Moroccan physics graduate Ali outside Morocco's parliamen
Ali, 35, has a PhD in physics yet can't get a job

"Either Morocco can tap into that, use it as an opportunity and then the Moroccan economy will take off, because you are using that human capital to be more productive.

"Or it can be socially very costly, because here you have all these people of working age, but many of them are unemployed, with all the social consequences this brings."

The government is certainly aware of the potential risks, and says it is doing all it can.

But the unemployed graduates protesting outside parliament see this as just one more empty promise.

"I'm a pessimist now," says Ali.

"Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light."

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