EGYPT: Public university leaders to be replaced

A recent decision by the Egyptian government to replace the current heads of public universities and college deans has drawn angry reaction from these leaders, who deny having political links with the former regime. And academics have vowed to continue protesting until further demands are met.

"The universities' leaderships see this decision as humiliating," said Moustafa Kamal (pictured), Provost of the government-run University of Assiut in central Egypt.

"How come incumbent heads of universities are dismissed, allegedly because they belong to the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak? There are officials who served in the Mubarak era still working in other state institutions," he added.

Following a popular revolt that ousted Mubarak in February, state-run universities were gripped by protests demanding the dismissal of their leaders. Students and academics said vice-chancellors and deans had been selected for their jobs on the basis of loyalty to Mubarak.

Certainly, for decades the leaders and other top administrators of public universities were appointed by the head of the state after approvals from security agencies.

A draft law regarding replacing the leadership at public universities and colleges has already been approved by the interim government. It has now been referred to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been in control of Egypt since Mubarak's toppling.

According to local newspapers, the heads of several state-run universities have sent protest letters to the military rulers, asking them not to endorse the draft law.

"This law constitutes an insult to university leaders who did their best to protect these institutions during and after the revolution from outlaws," they were quoted as saying in their letters. Egypt has been suffering from a lack of security since Mubarak was overthrown, after a sudden collapse of the police establishment.

"We confirmed in our letters that most of us were not engaged in politics nor had links with the formerly ruling National Democratic Party during the Mubarak era," said Kamal, the head of the University of Assiut. "None of us has been found involved in irregularities."

While welcoming the government's move to replace the university heads, academics have vowed to continue their protests until the military rulers pass the draft law and meet a range of other demands.

"Our demands are that university leaders should be elected, independence of higher education institutions should be enshrined, and the budget allocated for universities and scientific research should increase to be 2.5% of the overall national income," said Adel Abdul Gawad, a co-founder of Academics for Reform, a non-governmental Islamist group.

"In addition, we demand that the financial status of teaching staff be drastically improved as is the case in neighbouring countries. Also, steps should be taken to provide adequate health and social care, as well as protection for assistant professors from arbitrary acts [by their superiors]," he said.

According to Abdul Gawad, a campaign is under way to collect signatures from academics across Egypt to prod the military rulers to expedite the replacement of current university leaders with elected ones.

"We are waiting for the new law to be issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which will entail new regulations on the basis of which university leaders will be chosen," said Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Technology Ezzat Salama in an interview with the semi-official newspaper Akhbar Al Youm.

He added that the selection of new leaders would be either through direct balloting or a committee of experts. "Once the new regulations are issued, a timetable will be set for selecting these leaders including university heads, their deputies, deans and chairpersons of departments."