Egypt’s Alexandria to set up branch in South Sudan

Egypt’s Alexandria University is to set up a branch campus in the South Sudan town of Tonj, supported by a grant from the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education. The campus will ramp up higher education links that include scholarships for South Sudanese to study in Egypt.

This was announced by the Egyptian government following Prime Minister Hisham Qandil's visit to the nascent African country on 14 March, according to a report in Al-Ahram newspaper.

The ministry’s grant for the branch of Alexandria, one of Egypt’s leading universities, is LE8.625 million (US$1.27 million). The campus will have departments of veterinary science, agriculture, education, nursing and research.

The new campus will help promote development in South Sudan and satisfy demand for graduates who are currently in desperately short supply; for instance, in the health sector – access to health care is available to less than 20% of the population.

There are currently more than 390 South Sudanese students studying in Egyptian universities under scholarships provided to them by the Egyptian government.

However, earlier this month South Sudanese students appealed to their government in Juba to rescue them from a dire financial situation, as the Egyptian government had stopped providing text booksand accommodation for them and there was lack of provision for medical treatment, according to a report in the Sudan Tribune.

John Apuruot Akec, vice-chancellor of the University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal and chair of the think-tank Academics and Researchers Forum for Development, told University World News that the Alexandria campus and the scholarship programme were significant.

"This is the kind of development assistance that has truly lasting value for South Sudan and is a very welcome development.

"The demand for higher education in South Sudan is on the rise as secondary school enrolment is increasing year by year, and we need more institutions of higher education.”

However, Akec warned: "The new university should not be only an avenue for providing jobs to Egyptian academics. It should also provide opportunities to nationals, and learn lessons from Cairo University in Khartoum, which was nationalised.

“I do not know the reasons but Egyptian planners must bear that in mind and avoid a repeat of anything that might trigger South Sudan to nationalise the University of Alexandria in Tonj.”

Asked about inviting foreign branches campus to South Sudan, Akec said: “A good balance is needed. Most higher education is better provided by our government, as it would reflect our values. Foreign education is welcomed but should be done carefully.”

He said that in war-ravaged countries like South Sudan, building university infrastructure must be a priority. “It is not cheap and South Sudan is at the beginning, where everything is in demand.”

Commenting on a possible political motive behind Egypt-South Sudan higher education initiatives, Akec said: "I don't believe in free lunch. Egypt has an interest in assisting South Sudan and South Sudan has an interest in maintaining mutually beneficial relations with Egypt. It’s a two-way thing.”

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011 following a peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war, becoming the continent’s 54th state.

It is one of nine countries – along with Egypt – that belong to the Nile Basin Initiative, which is tasked with setting quotas of Nile water for member states. Currently, tensions have been sparked by a new pact calling for equitable water use, which Egypt perceives as being against its interests.