Reform plan aims for 60 more universities in a decade

Egypt has launched a 10-year higher education plan aimed at reforming the sector and promoting the development of a knowledge-based economy. One goal is to establish 60 new universities in the coming decade.

The strategy, announced by Minister of Higher Education Mustafa Musaad, was outlined in a 13 February report published by Ahram newspaper.

Egypt’s rapid population growth has proved an enormous challenge for its higher education system. The country has one of the lowest number of universities per capita in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a report, Science and Innovation in Egypt, launched at the 12th Islamic Summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, held in Cairo from 6-7 February.

Overturning three decades of neglect will take time and commitment, and will require substantial change at many levels including in universities and research centres, the report indicated.

Under the higher education reform plan, 60 new universities will be established in the coming decade: 20 state and 40 private institutions. In line with international standards, the total number of students attending any one university will not exceed 40,000.

Currently, Egypt has 18 public universities and 17 private universities that enrol only about 76,000 students – of whom nearly 50% are foreign and Arab students.

The higher education budget should be increased from the current LE17 billion (US$2.5 billion) to LE70 billion (US$10.3 billion)

A national council for education and research will be set up, tasked with improving the performance of universities and drafting educational strategies and reform plans. The council will be headed by either the country's president or the prime minister, and will include representatives of ministries concerned and university presidents.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a researcher at Cairo's National Research Centre, cautiously welcomed the new higher education plan, as outlined by the newspaper.

“Building new universities and increasing financial support are the easy steps on the rocky road to reforming the higher education system,” Abdelhamid told University World News.

As the establishment of new universities will lead to a shortage of lecturers to staff them, Abdelhamid called for programmes to prepare future faculty and to provide professional development guidance to graduate students who wish to pursue an academic career.

Teaching should also be modified to boost the employability of graduates through more programmes that include teaching problem-solving, critical thinking and communication skills, Abdelhamid added.

According a to Q4 2012 labour force survey published by the country's Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, the majority of unemployed people fall into the youth demographic segment, with nearly 73.9% of them aged from 15-29 years. Also, 87.8% of the total unemployed received secondary or higher education, which paintsa picture of most jobless individuals as being young and educated.

Abdelhamid pointed out that research performance in universities and research centres must also be improved, as Egypt published just 102 papers per million people in 2010, lagging behind regional competitors such as Turkey (409), Iran (377) and Saudi Arabia (226).

In another development aimed at joining the open access virtual learning community, Egypt's Ministry of Higher Education on 17 February launched a project to draw on the OpenCourseWare initiative.

Managed by programmes of continuous professional improvement and qualifications accreditation in higher education institutions, OpenCourseWare (OCW) will cover both the undergraduate and graduate levels and includes access to syllabi, lecture notes, slide presentations, assignments and interactive lectures using multimedia kits.

Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of the City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications in Alexandria, welcomed the new initiative as an ideal educational tool for Egypt as well as Africa.

“The OCW initiative, along with the US-Arab States Open Book Project, will provide an efficient and cost-effective way for universities to enhance access to high quality educational materials as well as sharing knowledge and best practices,” Abdel Al concluded.

A recent report, Open Courseware as a Tool for Teaching and Learning in Africa, highlighted its “great promise for future technological innovation and application” in teaching and learning on the continent.