Cairo University takes aim at unlawful ‘teaching centres’

Cairo University, Egypt’s biggest state-run academic institution, has initiated an action plan against thriving but unlawful ‘teaching centres’ in its vicinity, accusing them of “undermining the educational process”.

The centres, located just outside campus, are accused of pirating academic books, producing sub-standard study guides and holding fee-charging crash courses for students.

Academics, whose books have allegedly been pirated by the centres, say their complaints to law-enforcement authorities have not drawn a response.

Plan in motion

Cairo University’s governing board said it had initiated a package of measures to “minimise the detrimental effects” of the centres, whose businesses are believed to generate billions of dollars.

The steps include banning the university’s lecturers from authoring study guides for the centres, changing the exam system and simplifying the content of textbooks.

“Cairo University is not the only university suffering from these centres that have turned into an industry destroying students’ minds,” said Gaber Nassar, the institution’s president.

“These centres have sprung up close to each governmental and private university in Egypt over the past five years,” Nassar, a law professor, told the semi-official newspaper Al Ahram.

‘Multi-sided confrontation needed’

“All these centres are operating without a licence and sell pirated copies of books.” Nassar estimated the value of business of centres in the vicinity of his university to be least EGP20 billion (US$2.5 billion).

“The university cannot directly confront this underworld of business. This confrontation needs state authorities and the strict application of law.”

Meanwhile, Nassar said, his university sought to determine and eliminate the causes of “this phenomenon”.

Under the plan, ad hoc committees in different schools of the university have been formed to revise textbooks to ensure that authors have not deliberately made them big in order to sell the books at high prices.

At the same time, the university has promised to substantially subsidise academic books to make them affordable to students.

“The university has set a fair pricing system for professors’ books,” Nassar said. “Bookshops on the campus are also committed to adhering to the set prices or have their contracts cancelled.”

According to Nassar, most lecturers cooperating with the teaching centres outside the university are demonstrators and assistant professors. He said they had been given until 31 July to complete their dissertations to obtain masters or doctoral degrees, “or they will be transferred to an administrative job”.

Student perspectives

Students have reacted differently to the university’s moves.

“Notes sold by these centres are very helpful in the light of the bulky textbooks and the large numbers of students in my faculty,” said a law student, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of getting into trouble with the university’s administration.

“These notes are simple and brief. They usually include expected questions in exams and their answers. I depended on them in my first year at the faculty of law and passed [with good marks].”

He was sceptical about whether the university’s actions would work. “These centres are a huge business across Egypt from which many university teachers earn money. I doubt there will be enough cooperation from inside and outside the universities to end it.”

For Sarah Mohamed, a student in the school of arts, Cairo University’s action is good – albeit overdue.

“These centres have damaged university education and therefore must be stopped as soon as possible. All other state institutions should help in this,” she said. “Only lazy students go to these centres. Their summary notes are shallow and hardly help their users to pass exams.”