Ministry sees value in international students

While international students studying in Egypt currently generate US$186 million for the Egyptian economy, this figure is low by international standards. An ambitious government plan aims to double the number of international students by 2020-21 and increase their contribution to the country by as much as US$700 million.

According to a statement from Egypt's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Egypt’s public universities attracted 91,000 new foreign students in the last five years, from 2012 to 2017, including 41,000 students at first-degree level and 50,360 students at postgraduate level.

The students come mainly from countries such as Kuwait, Syria, Palestine, Sudan, Jordan, Somalia, Bahrain, China and Malaysia and are enrolled in both practical and theoretical subjects including science, technology, medicine and engineering, along with social, humanities and religious studies, according to a local media report.

The new plan to increase foreign students at Egypt’s universities is set to take advantage of Egyptian universities’ relatively low tuition fees and accommodation costs, along with its attraction as an international tourist destination.

Best student city rankings

Egypt's capital of Cairo appeared at 88 on a list of the world's 100 best places for students to study, according to 2017 Quacquarelli Symonds Best Student Cities ranking, which ranks cities on a number of measures, including student satisfaction, affordability, university rankings, employer activity, student mix and desirability.

According to 2014 UNESCO statistics, Egypt ranked 19 in the top 20 countries attracting the most overseas students to their universities.

University fees in Egypt vary according to the subject of study and the level of study. All students pay a US$1,500 application fee and fees for undergraduates range between US$3,000 to US$6,000 a year. Postgraduates pay fees ranging from US$4,500 to US$6,000 a year, according to the website of the Cultural Affairs and Missions Sector of Egypt's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

International student website

To facilitate foreign students’ enrolment at the country’s universities, Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research launched an international students' website which enables potential students for all universities to apply online and obtain information about their admission. The international student website was launched on 16 September 2016 and officially presented by the minister on 23 March 2017.

Besides the establishment of five new universities each year, the plan envisages that Egypt will host more branches of foreign universities in the Knowledge City situated in the new administrative capital east of Cairo.

The plan also focuses on enhancing the role of cultural offices at Egyptian embassies abroad in providing information about studying in Egypt and the setting up of international students’ clubs, societies and organisations to help foreign students meet each other and feel at home.

While the figure of US$186 million from foreign students sounds impressive, it is low relative to the capacity of Western countries to attract international students. According to figures produced by peak universities body Universities UK, international students currently contribute nearly US$30 billion to the United Kingdom in addition to providing skills. In the United States, the contribution is US$33 billion, according to the Association of International Educators known as NAFSA.

In contrast, North African countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Sudan actually lose most of their top students to foreign universities, often at a cost to the local government, according to Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Cairo's National Research Centre.

Lack of competitiveness

The inability to attract sufficient numbers of paying international students is largely the result of a lack of competitiveness, according to Anouar Majid, Moroccan higher education expert and vice-president for global affairs at the University of New England in the United States.

"While Sub-Saharan students do attend North African universities and institutes, they do so through partnership agreements or funding from the host country,” Majid told University World News.

Most of these students are not attracted by the scientific standards of the host institution, according to Algerian mathematician Professor Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, from École Normale Supérieure in Algiers. "Foreign students study at North Africa universities not for the high scientific level of the university but for the opportunity to study evolving social, cultural, legal and political movements in the region," he said.

Others seek education in Islam, according to Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University in the United States and a member of the presidential advisory council that advises Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

"Today, only a few students from African countries are enrolled in North African universities. The majority of those seek education in Islam, particularly at Al-Azhar University and similar institutions. Very few of such students are enrolled to study sciences, economics or the arts," he said.

International nature of higher education

El-Baz said it was important for North African universities to consider themselves part of the higher education systems of the world and try to attract students from all countries. “The presence of even a few foreign students at each university would underscore the international nature of higher education," he said.

"Such an initiative would have very positive influence on the status of the North African universities worldwide as it would help in raising the international academic stature of universities, exposing local students to varied cultures, increasing the income [budgets] of local universities and promoting the stature of, and tourism in, the host countries."

"The basic problem is the lack of outreach by universities in North Africa to encourage students from Europe, the US or the East. It is incumbent upon the leadership of North African universities to advertise their programmes internationally."

To ensure universities in North Africa are attractive to international students, Boubaker-Khaled said it was necessary to upgrade at least some.

"It is not possible to upgrade all universities in the region, but each North African country can open a distinguished university or at least coordinate with each other so that a distinguished regional university can be opened in the near future with branches in each country with the aim to attract foreign and local students," Boubaker-Khaled said.