New higher education regulatory body to boost autonomy

Egypt is to establish a Higher Education Regulatory Funding Authority, or HERFA, in collaboration with the United Kingdom. The aim is to create an improved and more autonomous higher education system.

The new initiative was announced at the UK-Egypt Higher Education and Science Forum held in Cairo on 14 October, according to a report from Britain’s Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

The new authority will focus on designing new funding models and regulatory regimes as well as creating conditions for a more autonomous higher education system.

“As part of its remit HERFA will have leadership development for universities to support and accelerate the pace of change needed as the Egyptian higher education sector navigates its way through the reform agenda,” the Leadership Foundation said.

It was named a key partner for the new authority. Chief Executive Alison Johns told University World News that England had operated an autonomous higher education system for many years, with an arm's length and independent regulatory and funding body similar to HERFA.

“The English system of higher education has invested in developing effective leadership, governance and management as a cornerstone of such a system, and it is the sharing of the learning and experience from this work that can be used to support reforms in Egypt through drawing on good practice which is appropriate for the new Egyptian system.”

The autonomy issue

Vincent Emery, pro vice-chancellor for international relations at the UK’s University of Surrey, told University World News that lack of autonomy was an issue in Egypt and reduced the ability of the higher education sector to innovate.

“The interface between universities and industry is suboptimal both in understanding the needs of industry on the research and development front but also from the perspective of providing graduates who have the skills that industry needs.”

Emery, who is also co-chair of the International Unit of Universities UK’s Middle East and North Africa Community of Practice, said the new authority would interface between the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the higher education sector.

It would play “an important role in ensuring quality and also managing funds as well as allowing universities to have more autonomy, and this will provide the stimulus for more innovation in the sector”.

Emery said there were multiple strands to the UK-Egypt interaction, including high level engagement through the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the International Unit of Universities UK and the Leadership Foundation, “to empower senior leadership with the toolkit necessary to manage significant higher education sectoral change and to foster increasing links in teaching and research”.

The £20 million (US$31 million) Newton-Mosharafa Fund, a five-year British and Egyptian science and innovation partnership launched in May 2015, would provide an important funding strand to enable these activities to happen, Emery added.

It is named after British mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, regarded as one of the most influential scientists in history, and Egyptian theoretical physicist Ali Moustafa Mosharafa, who contributed to the development of quantum theory.

Emery explained that the UK’s system of ‘separating’ government and universities allowed innovation and entrepreneurial activities in teaching, learning and research within a regulatory framework for quality assurance and research quality assessment.

“The opportunity for Egypt to understand the positive attributes of this system and incorporate them into a system which is appropriate for Egypt is very exciting.”