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Published in Ahram Online on 03 - 11 - 2020

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 31 October inaugurated the King Salman University in Sharm El-Sheikh, one of the national projects for the development of the Sinai Peninsula. The university has two branches in the city of Tor and Ras Sedr, with a total of 10 colleges that can accommodate up to 30,000 students. The university's majors include Applied Engineering, Computer Science, Technological Industries, Financial and Administrative Sciences, Tourism and Hospitality, Desert Architecture, Language and Applied Languages, and Art and Design.
Prior to the inauguration, Al-Sisi instructed the government to establish at least 15 more private international universities and their branches in Egypt, giving priority to modern sciences and advanced scientific majors that allow students to enter international and local job markets. “It is essential to adjust majors at technical universities to fit the industrial activities of the cities in which these universities are located,” the president said.
Egypt's largest private university is the American University in Cairo (AUC) which was founded in 1919 by an American mission in Egypt. It was only in 1992 when a presidential decree was passed paving the way for setting up private universities. Four years later, in 1996, decrees were issued to set up four private universities: the Modern Sciences and Arts (MSA), Misr University for Science and Technology (MUST), 6 October University, all of which were built at 6 October City, and Misr International University (MIU) along the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road.
According to Farouk Ismail, president of Al-Ahram Canadian University (ACU) and former president of Cairo University, there are at least 30 private universities in Egypt including local branches of international universities. The aim of private universities in the country was to ease the burden on public universities which receive annually a huge number of applicants far beyond their capacities. The overall number of students enrolled in the country's private universities does not exceed 100,000. “This is considered a very low figure when compared to the millions enrolled in government universities,” Ismail said.
Ismail noted that private universities in Egypt are considered “an experience created to stay forever. The number of private universities along with the 18 state-owned universities is almost 50, yet Egypt needs at least 200 to absorb the annual mushrooming number of students,” he said.
Ismail said he believed that private universities have so far performed their required role. “Many private universities outdo others in terms of the quality of education due to the low number of students enrolled.”
Dalia Darwish, a TV anchor with two children, believes that private universities are her salvation from the nightmare of Thanaweya Amma or 12th grade high school and the high grades required to join a top faculty at a public university. “I am not worried anymore. Even if my children do not get high grades in their Thanaweya Amma final exams, there will still be a place for them at a private university. These universities only require money, not high marks,” Darwish said. “I just need to pay considerably higher tuition fees.”
Manal Saleh, a housewife and mother of two private university students, agreed. “I don't mind paying more money in return for providing my children with a better education. The number of students in lectures ranges from 30-100 in comparison to at least 1,000 students in government universities,” Saleh said.
Abdallah Sorour, a professor at Alexandria University, described private universities as “time bombs”. He said he believed that it was impossible to reform higher education in private educational institutions. “Top faculties of private universities like that of engineering and medicine welcome students whose marks are not high enough for admittance to equivalent faculties at governmental universities. The result is that the standard of doctors and engineers who graduated at private universities is less than average,” Sorour said.
He suggests the creation of a national council for education and scientific research in order to improve the performance of such universities. The council should be headed by either the country's president or prime minister, and ministers concerned along with presidents of universities. “The council should be responsible for planning educational strategies and reform plans,” Sorour suggested.
Since the 1990s, the government has been encouraging the creation of private universities to attract private investment to higher education, promote quality, meet growing demand for higher education and ease problems that would face Egyptians attending universities abroad.
Accordingly, a few years ago the government decided to raise the minimum grades for Egyptian and foreigners entering private universities where the difference of grades between private and public universities would not exceed 2-5 per cent. Ismail disagreed with Sorour, confirming that there are many graduates of private faculties who can strongly compete with graduates from public universities. “For example, many graduates of private dentistry faculties are better than their peers who graduate from Cairo University's Dentistry Faculty or that of Ain Shams University,” Ismail said.
Most governmental universities such as those of Cairo, Ain Shams and Alexandria have special sections with higher fees in order to compete with private universities and to encourage students who prefer to enrol in private universities. “The lecture halls of the special sections of governmental universities are smaller in size and air-conditioned,” Ismail said, adding they also provide the same facilities which private universities offer for their students such as specialised libraries and Internet access.
Rabab Maamoun Salama, a professor at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, pointed out that private universities are owned by individuals and operate with the primary objective of making profit; education is a secondary issue. “In my view, establishing an educational project to make money automatically compromises the quality of education.”
Said Khalil, dean of the Faculty of Education in 6 October University, said international and private universities will have great importance in the coming period, given that their establishment is based according to the latest global systems and requirements for studying, which are in line with the technological development existing in European and other developed countries.
Experts and academics praised the establishment of branches of international universities with prestigious classifications in the New Administrative Capital, stressing that the pursuit of this step indicates the government's desire to reach “international standards in the world of education”.
Educational experts like Selim Abdel-Rahman, a professor at Helwan University, believes that this step will lead to the creation of strong competition between universities to provide a better product for a better student, reduce the number of students enrolling in foreign universities, as well as attract foreign students. It will also help in achieving partnership with major international universities to benefit from the presence of these universities in developing the Egyptian education system.
According to Abdel-Rahman, this would take place through two methods. “The first is by exchanging students, faculty staff members and expertise, while the second is benefiting from the presence of international universities in Egypt in achieving a good academic reputation about education in Egypt via these universities,” added Abdel-Rahman.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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