“This is where the next generation of African leaders is being educated.” The place in question is the University of Mohammed VI Polytechnic - UM6P - which was inaugurated by Morocco’s current king in 2017 and named in his honour. The explanation comes from Chief Communications Officer Khalid Baddou.
Located in Benguerir, 50km from Marrakech, UM6P is an ambitious project. It is committed to exploring how conventional and unconventional education methods, applied research, science and technology can help empower Africa’s youth. It is part of the King’s own vision for developing Africa’s talents. “Experimentation, digitalisation and entrepreneurship is at the core of our vision. Our interdisciplinary research and education portfolio ensures all future generations learn about the topics relevant for the continent and the UN’s 2030 Agenda”, says Khalid.
The university’s Manager of Digital Communications, Content, and New Media Relations, Ranya Alaoui, explains, “The essential topics are engineering, geopolitics, data science, business, architecture and agriculture. We also tap into a large network of international collaborations with world-class universities including MIT, X mechatronics teaching laboratory, Ponts et Chaussées, Laval and HEC.”
According to the African Youth Survey 2020, adopting entrepreneurship and ’Afro-Optimism’ among the younger generation across Africa could do wonders for the continent. The university has adopted a “learning by doing principle” and offers all its the students the use of its experimental technological platforms. The university architects have turned 1100 hectares in the Green City of Benguerir into a full-scale laboratory for smart and green building. Students also benefit from a highly qualified mentoring scheme with a focus on the qualified African diaspora.
During the visit, Adam, an engineering student at the Emines School of Industrial Management Mechatronics Laboratory demonstrates his self-made robot and his solar car. “ The advanced learning methods here, and the opportunity to carry out such experiments in my curriculum truly encourages me to become an entrepreneur. Scaling pragmatic ideas into concrete projects to address our biggest industrial challenges.”
"Despite possessing 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, the continent remains a net importer of food. Clearly, Africa’s agricultural production and food security will benefit from greater local scientific research"
The university also specialises in food security; a vital topic for Africa. The continent’s population has doubled, and in urban areas tripled, in the past 30 years. Yet despite possessing 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, the continent remains a net importer of food. Clearly, Africa’s agricultural production and food security will benefit from greater local scientific research.
“I’ve been seeking to come back for more than ten years. Every year I looked for a research opportunity that could compete with what the UK or Germany could offer in terms of resources and means,” says Maryam Rafiqi, a plant pathology researcher. “Imagine my surprise when I discovered that UM6P’s laboratories are as advanced and well-equipped as anything I’ve seen in the world in my time as a research fellow working around the world.”
Researchers also benefit from the university’s living labs. PhD researcher Louay Metougui, is experimenting with what may be a highly promising project for Africa. “The experimental farm allows us to try solutions and innovations tailored to the dry terrain that makes up 43 percent of Africa.” Along with its continental partners, UM6P aims to establish experimental farms in 14 African countries.
"A human-centric approach, supported by talent and resources, can help Africa bring local solutions to its most urgent challenges. If Africa’s youth is fulfilled, the continent will advance"
Almost 100 of the university’s 1400 students come from sub-Saharan countries, and the university is keen to increase this each year to at least 20 percent. One of these students is Salim Hamid. A PhD student in material sciences, who says, “My long-term objective is to develop a highly innovative industrial process for the valorisation of biomass in Kenya. With the UN’s sustainable development goals in mind, I think agro-waste could be converted, via chemical and thermal processes, into bio-inspired designs and green characteristic materials with enhanced performances, such as biodegradable plastics, eco-friendly biochar and advanced fertilizers”.
I did not expect UM6P to be quite so eye-opening, nor did I expect to find such pragmatic visions, where a human-centric approach, supported by talent and resources, can help Africa bring local solutions to its most urgent challenges. If Africa’s youth is fulfilled, the continent will advance. The empowered and optimistic students at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University seem to make that a certainty. Young, highly promising and Africa-focused, this is one to keep an eye on.