EGYPT: More engineers, fewer doctors move slammed

Egypt's Higher Council for Universities, a governmental agency that oversees academic institutions, has decided to increase the number of students attending public engineering institutions and cut enrolments at medical schools in the new academic year. The move has been scathingly criticised as impractical and counter-productive.

"This decision harms the interests of society," said independent MP Mohssen Radi, arguing that many students graduating in engineering are failing to find jobs. "Increasing the number of students applying for engineering schools would send unemployment rates higher among graduates."

Radi also believes that Egypt's engineering schools are ill-prepared to cope with the new increase. "This means churning out more badly qualified graduates."

According to the controversial decision, schools of engineering and computer science at state-run universities in this country of 80 million people will accept 5% to 9% more students next year.

Meanwhile, the quota of students applying for medical schools will be cut by 15% in compliance with a court ruling. Last year, an Egyptian court upheld a lawsuit filed by the Medical Association to reduce the number of students admitted to the medical schools by 15%. Public medical schools admitted some 10,500 students last year, according to official figures.

The Medical Association said that graduate numbers from medical schools were too high for the job market and urged parents not to pressure their children to apply to study medicine. According to the association, the nation's medical schools are bursting at the seams with students who are not properly trained.

"This is hard to believe. Reducing the number of medical students harms development efforts in Egypt and is set to reflect negatively on health care services," said Radi. He thinks the decision was made under pressure from 'interest groups' to push students to join the medical schools of private universities.

Medical schools are traditionally considered to be the finest and most popular faculties in Egypt. Many parents want their children to be medical doctors because of the social status associated with this profession.

But to Ali Abdel Rahman, an ex-president of Cairo University - Egypt's most prestigious public university - the decision to increase the enrolment quota at the engineering schools "deserves praise".

"This decision is in line with the national development process in Egypt, where a lot of attention is being given to the construction and computer sciences," said Abdel Rahman. "Joblessness rates are the lowest among engineering school graduates."

He argued that some medical schools needed to be boosted and upgraded before being allowed to accept more students.

According to Susan Hamouda, the manager of a local recruitment agency, Egypt's construction industry will need more engineering graduates over the next five years.

"The construction sector is booming in Egypt despite the global economic crisis. Giant real-estate developers have already entered the Egyptian market and they increasingly need Egyptian engineers in the fields of architecture, civil engineering and interior design. This trend is set to continue," she added.

Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal, who heads the Higher Council for Universities, has said that the move is aimed at encouraging students to join schools offering qualifications that are in high demand in the job market, such as engineering, instead of majoring in disciplines dictated by their scores in secondary school certificate examinations.