A Free University for All Citizens – HEM in Morocco

Nineteen years ago, HEM (Institute of Higher Education of Management) in Morocco launched a unique concept called “Université Citoyenne,®” roughly translated in English as “Free University for all citizens.” The idea came from the oldest university in the history of the world, the University of AlKaraween in Fès/Morocco, which was established by a woman named Fatima Al-Fahria more than a thousand years ago. This University, now taken up by HEM Foundation, aimed to provide a space where people from all walks of life could meet to attend seminars by prominent scholars. I spoke with Dr. Ali Elquammah, Co-Director of Academic Affairs & International Relations HEM, about this initiative.

What is Université Citoyenne® and how did it come about?

“Université Citoyenne®” consists of a series of seminars, open to all, without prerequisites, which are designed as introductory courses and awareness sessions about sociopolitical, managerial and economic issues in Morocco. The series, which spans over three months, is provided free of charge once a year, simultaneously in six cities where HEM BS has a campus: Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Tanger, Fès and Oujda.

What are the key features of the program?

A seminar is organized each week for three months in each HEM campuses simultaneously. Each seminar is run by a subject matter expert and a moderator. Each year they are organized around three distinct themes:

  • Institutions, Political Life and Human Rights
  • Thought and Society
  • Economy and Business Management

The themes are determined by a strategic committee. Each campus proposes several topics to the committee for validation at the beginning of the year. The topics to be discussed need to be of current interest, relevant to the context and likely to initiate a critical debate.

An “Auditor’s Certificate” is given to individuals who attended at least 80% of the seminars. Individuals interested in participating can register on the HEM website.

Why have the Universite Citoyenne?

Université Citoyenne® falls within HEM policy to develop and share knowledge.

The main benefit of this concept is free education for all and democratizing the access to information, since Université Citoyenne® provides these seminars free of charge and requires no pre-requisites from its participants. These seminars also aim to enrich the spirit of openness, encourage debate and develop an active citizenship culture in an emerging market such as Morocco.

What have been a few of the most memorable moments of the Université Citoyenne® over the years in your opinion?

We’ve put together a short video that traces back some of the memorable moments. Click here.

What have been some of the challenges of putting this together? 

The logistical process of this program is very challenging because there are many stakeholders in the equation. HEM’s material and human resources are dedicated to the Université Citoyenne® in parallel with the school’s everyday activities. The planning of this concept has to start months ahead of the official kick-off; everything to be set in place in terms of speakers’ approvals and confirmations. However, since we have been doing this for the past 19 years, logistical planning has become easier in time.

What have been some successes? 

Over the past 19 years, more than 510 seminars were organized within Université Citoyenne® in which there were 28,000 registered participants and more than 4,500 Auditor’s Certificates awarded.

Université Citoyenne® has become a large project that we are very proud of. Every year we register an increasing number of participants and welcome more and more high profile experts who are willing to take part in this beautiful project.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

To put such a project into place, it has to come from the heart; the love of education is and will always remain at the core of the school’s state of mind. At HEM Business School, our slogan is «”We Love Education.” For other schools thinking of putting something similar into place, a fair amount of the school’s human resources should be mobilized for the project to be a success.

What is next for Universite Citoyenne®?

As an extension of Université Citoyenne®, we came up with « les Clubs de Lecture de l’Université Citoyenne® » (translated in English as « Reading clubs of Université Citoyenne® » ), which aims to facilitate access to literature and reading to a diverse public and share knowledge, ideas and questions around social issues in Morocco with them. Reading Clubs of Université Citoyenne® are held in meetings with four authors per year (alternately in Arabic and French).

Also within the framework of Université Citoyenne®, a collection of books called « Les Presses de l’Université Citoyenne® » has been developed to open the academic space to a wide audience of non-specialists and to contribute to the dissemination of the culture of debate and critical thinking. The books of « Presses de l’Université Citoyenne®» appear every 18 months. The first book of « Presses de l’Université Citoyenne,® » called « Le métier d’intellectuel, » or the job of the intellectual, won the 22nd edition of the « Prix Grand Atlas » prize in the Francophone Essays category in November 2015. The second book just came out and it is called “the tissue of your singularities – Living together in Morocco” It is a tribute to Mrs. Fatema El Mernissi, a famous Moroccan sociologist who recently passed away.



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