Al-Azhar University – considered the ‘Oxford’ of the Islamic world – is to open its first branch campus outside home country Egypt. The branch in Al Ain, the second largest city in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, is expected to open in September next year.
Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmad Al Tayeb recently signed an agreement with Mohammed Mattar Salem Al Kaabi, general authority of Islamic affairs and endowments for the United Arab Emirates or UAE, to set up the Al-Azhar branch, according to the Emirates News Agency.
Al-Azhar University, which is the world’s leading centre for Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic learning and one of the oldest higher education institutions in the world, will offer bachelor, masters and PhD degrees in Islamic studies.
Under the agreement, an Al-Azhar college for Islamic science and Dawaa – ‘preaching of Islam’ – will be set up in the UAE.
The new branch will attract students and faculty from across the Islamic world, including from Eastern nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia, and will provide lecture series and other outreach activities for the general public.
For decades, students from Africa to Southeast Asia have flocked to Al-Azhar in Egypt to learn Arabic and attend Islamic studies and non-religious courses offered by the institution.
'Soft power’ campuses
According to the website of the Union of Islamic World Students, Al-Azhar is also considering establishing branch campuses around the world – including in the United States, Bangladesh, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Madagascar, Sudan and Tanzania.
And the October 2015 Branch Campus Listing indicated that development of a branch for Al-Azhar University in Malaysia is pending. The list is produced by the Cross-Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany.
Egypt’s Alexandria University has a branch campus in the Chadian capital N’Djamena and another in ‘Tong’ city in Warrap state, Southern Sudan.
Branch campuses of Mansoura University in Comoros and of Cairo University in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, are also part of Egypt's soft power diplomacy, using universities to deepen and strengthen relations with African countries.
Alexandria University – Egypt’s second largest institution – has reportedly also forged partnership agreements with the Lebanese Charitable Association and the Malaysian Falcon Company to create branch campuses in those countries.
On the other hand, according to a list of Arab Region Branch Campuses, there is only one foreign branch campus in Egypt, Campus El Gouna of Technische Universität Berlin. It is the first German university to offer programmes in Egypt that are subject exclusively to German higher education standards and laws in terms of content and structure.
In addition, Egypt has 18 public universities and 17 private universities that are either Egyptian – such as the German University in Cairo – or foreign including American, British, Canadian, Chinese, French, German and Japanese universities, as indicated in the list of universities in Egypt.
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters