EGYPT: Abolishing faculty upsets academics

A decision by Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt's second biggest public higher education institution, to abolish the faculty of specific education has angered its academics who are fighting the move in court, and raised fears among lecturers at other government-run universities.

The administration of Ain Shams University in Cairo said it had decided to abolish specific education - which qualifies school teachers of music, fine arts and housekeeping - because the syllabuses taught at the college were similar to those in the faculty of education.

But lecturers and administrators of the abolished college claimed they were kept in the dark about the "bizarre and haphazard" move. They have gone to court to demand the decision be revoked.

"The lawsuit is based on the fact that the cancellation decision is limited to Ain Shams University, a matter showing it had been prompted by an individual wish, which does not elicit support from presidents of other [public] universities," said lawyer Arabi Abdullah.

Abdullah quoted Hossam Kamel, President of Egypt's biggest public institution Cairo University, who insisted on keeping the College of Specific Education affiliated to his institution. This, the lawyer explained, was because specific education played a vital role in "grooming qualified teachers in fields of music and arts".

He said the decision made by Ain Shams University was illegal because the boards of departments at the college were not consulted. "This decision was apparently based on inaccurate reports," he said.

In a statement, Ain Shams University said lecturers and students of the defunct college would join the faculty of education. The decision was later approved by the Higher Council for Universities, a government agency that supervises higher education in Egypt.

But Abdullah said the decision was followed by a systematic campaign to disband the college without considering academic ethics or good administrative procedures. He claimed lecturers were indirectly punished for "objecting to the cancellation decision since they first learned about it".

"The dean of the college was illegally and unceremoniously removed from her post when the administration of the university assigned a professor to be responsible for handling the transitional period. In protest, the dean has opted to stay at home."

Abdullah said lecturers had been re-posted to other faculties such as science, agriculture, arts and pharmacology. "Moreover, postgraduate studies at the college have been put on hold indefinitely."

Officials at the university declined to comment on the claims, saying they were not authorised to speak to the media. The controversial move has triggered fears that similar colleges, which first opened in Egypt some 20 years ago, will be shut down as well.

"Colleges of specific education have helped curb the shortage of teachers specialised in instructing music, arts and agriculture," said Ahmed Hassan, a student at the abolished college. "By arbitrarily integrating the college into the faculty of education, the reason for which it was originally established has been undermined. Is this how education development is pursued in this country?"

Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal played down the controversy. "Development allows the abolition of some colleges, merging other colleges together or creating new ones," the local press quoted him as saying.