Authorities mull reform of outdated open education

Egypt’s higher education authorities have said they are studying the development of open education programmes in the nation’s universities after the 25-year-old system drew widespread criticism.

The Supreme Council of Universities, which is in charge of higher education policy, formed a commission of academics to look into problems of open education and ways of upgrading it.

“This committee has compiled a 500-page report about the problems of this type of education and how the system has deviated from its course,” council head Ashraf Hatem said recently.

He added that the report had been sent to the presidents of universities in Egypt, who have been asked to examine it and make suggestions.

Open education was initiated in Egypt in 1990 with the aim of enabling young and older people to pursue university education through special institution-based programmes.

An estimated 500,000 students enrol in open education in Egypt every year, according to official figures.

Under fire

But critics have said that the open education system has failed to graduate qualified students.

“Open education has proved to be a farce,” Yehia el-Qazaz, a science professor at the state-run Helwan University in Cairo, told the independent newspaper Al Watan.

“It has been reduced to a system granting a university degree to the student to boost his social prestige, but without boosting his educational skills,” added el-Qazaz, a member of the March 9 Movement that advocates academic independence in Egypt.

“There is no interest in this system either on the part of the student or the lecturer. For the student, the system allows him to get a degree promoting his social standing in return for certain fees [paid for registering in open education]. Meanwhile, the lecturer sees the system as a chance to earn extra money.

“The farce of so-called open education should be halted because it has reached a deplorable level.”

Several Egyptian professional unions, including the associations of lawyers and of journalists, refuse to accept open education graduates as members, saying they are not qualified.

Students' outcry

The situation has disappointed students.

“Our classes are limited to only one day every week,” said Omania Abdul Halim, who studies a media course through open education at the public Cairo University. “Teaching staffers usually look down on us because they think we are less efficient than regular students.”

Abdul Halim, who already holds an arts degree, registered for open education with the aim of launching a media career. “I regret joining open education because its certificates are not recognised. Regular university students are favoured over us in the job market. I feel I am wasting my time,” she added.

Mahmoud Saad, a member of the open education student union, joined voices raised to reform open education in Egypt.

“The number of classes given to open education students should increase. One class per week is not enough,” said Saad, who studies tourism at the state-run Mansoura University.

“Strict rules should be set for eligibility on registering in the system. Lecturers should also be obliged to be serious in doing their jobs. Several lecturers skip classes and usually don’t take open education students seriously.”

Decisions soon

Higher Education Minister El-Sayed Abdel Khalek ruled out any intention to scrap open education in Egypt. “Ways of developing the system are being discussed. Final decisions on this will be taken soon by the Supreme Council of Universities,” he said in press remarks.