Furore over curbs on bonus marks for sports students

Egypt’s higher education authorities have curtailed a decades-old incentive system for sports students, saying that it has been abused for university entry.

The decision was made by the state-run Supreme Council of Universities, which is responsible for academic institutions in Egypt.

For many years students distinguishing themselves in local, regional and international sports events would receive bonus marks when applying for universities. But the council said the system had been used as a “back door” for students to unfairly secure places in top faculties.

Revising the regulations, the council said points would only be given to achievers at regional and international tournaments. “No marks will be given any more in the case of winning local championships,” it said in a statement.

The council said students winning local titles would get compensation via other incentives, such as partial or full exemption from tuition fees depending on “sports achievement”.

Sharp criticism

The curbs have drawn sharp criticism from academics and sports officials in Egypt.

“Cancelling the bonus marks for local tournaments will discourage student athletes,” said Ali Abdul Maguid, dean of the state-run Helwan University’s physical education school.

He added that several of Egypt’s top athletes were discovered through participation in pre-university tournaments at the local level. “How will students compete in international championships while they are discouraged from competing in local tournaments?”

Mohammad Bakr, an instructor for the state-run Port Said University’s physical education school, warned that curtailing incentives for sports students would do more harm than good.

“If the aim is to ensure that these incentives go to students who really deserve them, then this can be achieved through coordination between the ministries of sports and higher education on relevant measures,” Bakr, an ex-taekwondo player, told the independent newspaper Al Shorouk.

“Competing in international championships needs experience, which cannot be gained without participating in local championships. Making a champion is a costly process, but Egypt has limited sources,” Bakr argued.

“The presence of incentives encourages students to make an effort in the hope of qualifying for the marks reserved for distinction in sports. Without these grades, many parents will also stop their children from attending practice sessions, urging them instead to focus on their lessons.”

Egypt’s Olympic Committee has also condemned the decision, saying it was taken without consultation with the panel or the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“This decision deals a hard blow to Egyptian sports,” said Hesham Hatab, head of the Olympic Committee.

“If the Supreme Council of Universities has proof of flaws in the implementation process related to incentive marks, it should address these flaws rather than cancelling the marks.”

Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel Aziz said his ministry, in coordination with the Olympic Committee, was carrying out a “comprehensive study” on the issue to reach a solution.

An Egyptian court is expected to rule next month on a legal challenge filed by a group of students angry at the decision to scrap sports bonus marks for local tournaments.