Private university heads unhappy with draft law

Private university presidents have expressed their dissatisfaction at the draft law for private and public universities unveiled last month by the ministry of higher education and scientific research, which is aimed at promoting the expansion and diversification of higher education to meet increasing demand.

Late last month, it was reported that presidents of private universities had a list of objections related to the proposed legislation including the fact that private and public universities were covered under the same law. They also raised concerns about the independence of public universities which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Although the first private university – the American University in Cairo – was established in 1919, other private institutions only started to emerge from 1996. Today, in addition to 24 public universities at present, Egypt has 22 private universities (for-profit) and four ‘national’ (non-governmental, not-for-profit) universities. The latter include Nile University, Zewail City of Science and Technology, the French University in Egypt and the Egyptian e-Learning University.

At present, the ministry is examining 10 requests to establish private and national universities as indicated in a 25 September 2017 news report.

The growth of private higher education in Egypt is part of a global phenomenon and issues of education quality, market transparency and social accountability need to be addressed, according to a 2014 working paper entitled The Challenges of Private Higher Education in Egypt published by the Economic Research Forum.

The Higher Education and Scientific Research Strategy, which is part of the Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030, among other things, focuses on encouraging the establishment of private universities in order to attract private investment, promote quality, meet the growing demand for higher education, ease the problems facing Egyptians attending universities abroad and attract more Arab, African and foreign students.

According to El Watan, the draft framework law does not set any restrictions with regard to the number of founders of a private university; however, the law does require that at least 55% of the capital invested comes from Egyptians.

In addition, the new university must provide an education and research strategy covering at least five years in accordance with the reference criteria determined by the competent authority. Furthermore, a representative of the ministry is required to sit on the board of every new private or national university in order to report back on the university’s activities.

The university will be allowed to commence activities only after the acquisition of all necessary human resources as well as teaching and research resources. It would also need an agreement with a foreign university.

The law stipulates that state should provide assistance to national universities to enable them to perform their mission and fund research and academic projects using the same regulations applied to public universities.

Some of the key issues concerning the proposed legislation raised by the presidents are reportedly as follows:
  • • The combining of private and national universities under one law;

  • • Concerns about respect for articles of Egypt's Constitution of 2014 concerning the state's guarantee of the independence of universities and adherence to the basic international standards governing the independence of public universities as outlined by the European universities union;

  • • Concerns that the general system of academic affairs should not in any way be violated and should be applicable to all public and private university entities, including the introduction or termination of educational programmes, and the identification of roles and responsibilities in terms of quality assurance programmes and degrees;

  • • Assurances that the ministry will not exercise any additional powers that it does not have in public universities.
"All these points together or separately represent the minimum that is needed to advance the process of private higher education to reach the global level," the presidents’ statement said.

Once adopted by the council of private universities, the private and national universities law will be sent by the ministry to the council of ministers and parliament for approval in order to be effective by next September.

"It remains to be seen how the ministry will deal with the proposed remarks of private universities' presidents," said Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a professor at Cairo's National Research Centre.

"We hope to get a balanced private and national universities’ law that allows higher education institutions to make a profit while providing affordable and high quality higher education in order to produce industry-ready graduates and contribute towards developing knowledge-based economy."