EGYPT: Japan's first Africa-Middle East university

Almost seven years after the idea was floated at an Arab-Japanese forum in Tokyo, Japan and Egypt last month celebrated the launch of the first Japanese university in Africa and the Middle East. The Egypt-Japan University for Science and Technology, E-JUST, is an Egyptian public university, in partnership with Japan, based near the coastal city of Alexandria.

"E-JUST will promote human development in the region," said Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency which has been involved in developing the ambitious academic project. JICA is the Japanese government arm responsible for overseas economic cooperation.

"Though the university is not yet fully functioning, I was impressed with what I saw and am convinced that from the campus new business and business opportunities will flow," Ogata added during a recent visit to Egypt where she attended the launch ceremony along with the prime minister of Egypt Ahmed Nazif and Japanese Ambassador Kaoru Ishikawa.

E-JUST, which will offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in business, culture and engineering, is currently operating at a temporary location. Its new campus is expected to be completed within five years and will be built on an area of 81 hectares (200 acres) in New Borg al-Arab, a newly established city encompassing five industrial zones.

The aim is for E-JUST to become a regional centre of excellence and to be recognised as a world-class university within a decade, providing internationally recognised degrees and achieving a 90% employment rate among graduates - in a country with chronic joblessness.

This, it is hoped, will help to alleviate a serious brain drain from Egypt driven by students seeking better higher education and job opportunities abroad.

The new institution will also help to accommodate Egypt's growing number of higher education students, and alleviate some of the pressure on public universities. Cairo University, for example, has 260,000 students and a pupil-lecturer ratio of 26:1.

In February some 30 Egyptian postgraduate students started studies at the new university in three programmes - electronics and communications engineering, mechatronics and robotics engineering, and energy resources and environmental engineering.

Other programmes to be taught later at E-JUST will include industrial and manufacturing engineering, materials science and engineering, as well as chemicals and petrochemicals engineering. Such disciplines break new ground for academic education in Egypt. There will also later be undergraduate courses in areas such as business and culture.

"The name of the new university reflects Egypt's and Japan's keenness to cooperate in the fields of science and technology, which have become the basis of development in this era," Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said at the ceremony marking the university's launch, held at Egypt's Smart Village.

"We look forward to making use of the Japanese model, which depends on creativity and scientific research that feature prominently on the Egyptian government's list of priorities," he said, adding that the new university would link pure research with economic development.

Nazif said the hope was for the university to become an "island of science and technology" for the region and to help Africa generate a new generation of leaders in these fields.

"E-JUST has national and international recognition that gives its students access to the best academic, analytical and research experiences," said Egypt's Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal. It would offer Japanese-style engineering education and research activities needed in the Arab world and Africa," he added.

The nascent university will use the Japanese model for development and the promotion of technological know-how to Egypt's industries, according to Egyptian and Japanese officials.

"We have brought together 12 leading Japanese universities, various governmental ministries, and academic and industrial organisations in order to explore each other's needs and develop relevant programmes," said JICA's Ogata.

Under a five-year plan, her agency will provide training for instructors and operational staff in engineering and education, develop further education programmes and promote university-industry cooperation.

E-JUST will, according to JICA, be a showcase for Japanese culture, values and language and a platform for diplomacy, as well as a means for Japan to gain better understanding of regional market needs and dynamics that will enable Japanese companies to operate in the region.

Long a key development partner of Egypt, Japan has supported several projects in the past three decades in areas as diverse as healthcare, training, sanitation and culture - including the establishment of the Cairo Opera House.

The focus of JICA's education programmes in developing countries has been on primary education and vocational training. But that focus has been shifting, based on recognition of the importance of science and mathematics in promoting national economic growth - and JICA is now involved with more than 30 African nations in promoting those two subjects, as well Rwanda in the field of information technology.