EGYPT: Private universities cash in on enrolment cut

Ahmed Abdel Hamid scored 94% in Egypt's secondary school certificate examinations and wants to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. But his aspiration could be shattered because a 15% cut in the number of new students accepted this year by the medical schools of state-owned universities has raised the entrance bar to 98% - and private universities have raised their fees. Becoming a doctor, said Abdel Hamid sadly, "will cost me a fortune".

Several of Egypt's 17 private universities have raised fees for the new academic year. Officials in the institutions attribute the increase to a government decision last year to cancel tax exemptions previously enjoyed by private education institutions.

The October 6 University outside Cairo, one of the oldest private academic institutions in Egypt, has implemented the highest rise in fees. Its website states that attending medical school will cost LE42,000 (US$7,600) - LE4,000 higher than last year. Dentistry students will be charged LE34,500 compared with LE27,550 last year.

At the Canadian International College in Cairo, studying engineering now costs LE15,000 against LE9,000 for business administration and information technology. "Our institution provides education opportunities which are not available at public universities," said Majdi al-Qadi, chair of the board of trustees.

"For example, our biggest lecture hall accommodates no more than 30 students, compared with 500 at a public university hall."

Al-Quadi said the college helped students acquire skills in communication and to qualify for the labour market. It also offered a cross-cultural experience - including the option to study in Canada and opportunity to graduate with Canadian and Egyptian degrees.

Al Nahda (Renaissance) University, another private institution, has devised a system whereby fees are paid in proportion to applicants' grades. The fees decrease for high grades.

For example, dentistry students who scored more than 85% in the school-leaving exams are charged LE30,000 while those who achieved more than 90% pay LE27,500. Applicants with marks higher than 95% are exempted from fees, said board chairman Sadek Afifi.

"As for foreign students, they are charged US$3,000 per semester for studying dentistry, $2,500 for pharmacology and $1,300 for business administration," he said.

Fees at the American University in Cairo, Egypt's oldest private university, have remained the same. "Our fees will not be higher than last year, as it costs the student around LE90,000 a year to attend our classes," said Ghada Hazem, director of the admission office. "This sum decreases to LE60,000 for top-class students."

Hazem added that the university also offered annually scholarships to 20 new students out of 100 nominated by the Ministry of Education.