Academics slam political appointments to key committees

Academics have criticised the recent appointment of Egyptian government ministers and parliamentarians to key university committees by the Supreme Council of Universities, a state-run body responsible for higher education policy and overseeing institutions.

The panels concerned are tasked with investigating research outputs submitted by lecturers who seek to be promoted to become assistant professors or professors.

The appointees include parliament chief Ali Abdul Aal, originally a law professor, who has been named as rapporteur for an academic committee on law-related research.

Education Minister Al-Helaly Al-Sherbiny, a former vice-president of the provincial Mansura University, has been appointed to an academic committee for education fundamentals.

El-Sayed Abdel Khalek, a former higher education minister, has been picked for a committee on economics. He was replaced as higher education minister in September 2015 after causing an uproar by exempting students who are children of security officers and judges from rules governing transfers among the country’s universities, prompting accusations of favouritism.

Higher Education Minister Ashraf el-Sheehi this month approved the list of appointments for the research outputs committees that also include university administrators. The members will serve for a three-year term.

Politically motivated?

Critics claimed that the appointments were politically motivated and unlawful.

“The formation of the promotion [research outputs] committees has become a way of pleasing politicians,” said Hani Al-Husseini, a science professor at the state-run Cairo University and a member of the pro-university independence group, March 9.

“For example, the choice of the current education minister for one of these committees is illegal because at present he is not a university lecturer, as he is holding a ministerial post.

“The Supreme Council of Universities knows well that the minister is busy with running the Education Ministry’s affairs,” Al-Husseini continued. Therefore, the council should have appointed somebody else to the education fundamentals committee.

Khaled Samir, a professor of medicine at the state-run Ain Shams University and another member of March 9, told the independent newspaper Al Shorouk that he believed the minister had been appointed so that he could retain membership when he left the ministry.

He also criticised the appointment of university presidents and vice-presidents to research outputs committees.

“Under the law, the university’s president should not supervise academic dissertations or conduct any academic research while holding his post. He has to devote his time to managing the university. The same applies to vice-presidents and deans of faculties.”

A defence

The head of the Supreme Council of Universities, Ashraf Hatem, defended the appointments of university leaders to the committees as conforming to the law.

“The present law for universities allows choosing presidents of universities, their deputies and deans of faculties to be members of the academic outputs committees provided they do not serve as rapporteurs or secretaries,” Hatem told Al Shorouk.

He added that the incumbent education minister’s membership of the education fundamentals committee was “frozen” until he returned to his university job.