Caution greets private universities twinning requirement

New private universities will not be allowed to operate in Egypt unless they have collaboration agreements with institutions rated among the top 50 universities in the world, according to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The move has received mixed reviews from higher education experts.

“Permits should not be given to any university unless it signs a twinship agreement with the best university abroad to guarantee a better level of education to university students,” El-Sisi said in a directive to higher education officials on 22 March.

The move, aimed at improving the quality of university education in Egypt and boosting local university rankings, was confirmed by Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Essam Khamis, according to a local report.

The top 50 universities in the world will be determined using six rankings of universities. Among these will be the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the QS World University Rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.

Despite boasting one of the oldest universities in the world, Al-Azhar University, none of the country’s 48 public and private universities have made it onto the recent list of the top 100 world-class universities.

International experts have cautiously welcomed the move.

“It’s an excellent idea to have foreign universities partner with local universities to establish new joint programmes or universities,” said Jane Knight, an expert on international higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, Canada.

However, she said limiting collaboration to the top 50 universities worldwide is “too strict and restricts the possibility of establishing partnerships”.

Knight, who is also a distinguished visiting professor at the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, said increasing the number of eligible higher education institutions might actually boost the options.

Angel Calderon, principal advisor for planning and research at RMIT University, Australia, told University World News that the standing of an institution in the world university rankings should not be the defining criteria of whether or not an institution is worthy of partnership with another institution.

“In fact the criteria for a top 50 are entirely spurious and unlikely to yield any meaningful engagement,” said Calderon, a rankings expert and a member of the advisory board to the QS World University Rankings.

Susanne Kammüller, a senior expert in transnational education with the transnational education and cooperation programmes of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), told University World News the rankings were one way to judge the academic quality of universities, but their usefulness and informative value continues to be a controversial topic.

“The methodology and specific focus of analysis in international rankings lead to very different results among different rankings and practically exclude many higher education institutions which are excellent in their specific field,” Kammüller said.

“The rankings might be helpful to gain a broad overview on potential international partners but for the decision on a fitting university partner, ranking placements and, even less so, ranking results alone, are not an appropriate criterion,” Kammüller added.

Kammüller warned that the ideal partner would depend on specific circumstances, for example, a collaboration with a top-ranked research institution of international renown might be helpful for a new university aiming to create a name for excellence in fundamental research.

“If the aim is to educate qualified engineers to meet increasing industry demand for highly skilled specialists in an emerging economy, a good university of applied sciences without ranking status but with fitting specialisation and industry links could turn out a better choice of an international university partner,” Kammüller said.

But rankings expert Calderon said the driving criteria should be institutional affinity based on the institution’s mission and vision, as well as its orientation in alignment with the institution it seeks to partner with.

“Further, consideration needs to be given to an institution's discipline strength and areas where it could have meaningful engagement,” Calderon said.