In Egypt, smartness is not the condition to get high scientific certificates, and hard work is not the condition to achieve success through academic study. Meanwhile, money could help you get senior positions, regardless of quality and efficiency standards.
Touring Egyptian universities and reading admission criteria for graduates of General Secondary Certificate for 2022/2023, you will find university education has turned to business, or may be an unclean way for the wealthy to get the highest degrees.
The worrying issue is that the admission for what is known in Egypt, the top faculties, that includes medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy, engineering, economy and languages has declined to 70 per cent in some universities.
Choices of the wealthy
When getting the General Secondary School Certificate, the Egyptian student has to choose what to study at the university. Scientific merit does not determine his choice, but money does.
Twenty seven private universities across Egypt with high tuition fees that reach more than 200,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,470) annually is the best destination for the wealthy students who seek social prestige and a future political career.
University business attracted the attention of the Egyptian government so that it quickly opened non-governmental universities, which are based on large amounts of pre-paid education.
Since last year, study started in 20 non-governmental universities, 12 of which were built under supervision of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority across the major Egyptian cities, including Cairo and Alexandria.
The non-governmental and private universities, 47 across the country according to the Ministry of Higher Education, allow the admission of students with averages up to 75 per cent in the faculty of human medicine, 70 per cent in pharmacy, 65 per cent in engineering and 60 per cent in computer science.
In a strange measure, considered an attempt to revive this market, the High Council of Private and Non-Governmental Universities decided, last month, to lower the admission criteria for biotechnology, health sciences, basic sciences, nursing, law, media, languages and translation, economics and management, education, applied arts, social sciences, tourism and hotels, antiquities and cinematic sciences to 53 per cent.
The minimum admission criterion at the “business” universities is 30 per cent lower than it is in the government universities. The admission criteria for the faculty of medicine is 16 per cent lower than it is in the government universities and 20 per cent lower for the pharmacy and engineering. However, this is compensated by money paid in US dollars.
The Head of the Egyptian Syndicate of Engineers, Tarek Al Nabarawy, had attacked the Ministry of Higher Education, declaring on his Facebook page his rejection of the coordination regarding engineering education, criticising the low admission criteria in some private engineering institutes, which is only 60 per cent.
In Egypt, you will find price lists for tuition fees of private and non-governmental universities in newspapers and on social media as if you are entering a commercial mall with high administrative fees, and sometimes with some discounts to attract customers of scientific majors.
Al Giza Al Jadeeda University, near Cairo, earns 210,000 pounds ($46,800) entry fees to the College of Human Medicine in addition to $1,000 administrative fees, while the faculty of dentistry earns 195,000 pounds ($6,310) in addition to $1,000 administrative fees, and the faculty of pharmacy earns 123,600 pounds ($4,000) plus $500 administrative fees.
Alexandria National University, north of Egypt, earns 145,000 pounds ($4,692) as tuition fees for the faculty of human medicine, 130,000 pounds ($4,207) for dentistry, 115,000 pounds ($3,721) for pharmacy and 85,000 pounds ($2,750) for engineering. It earns 50,000 pounds each ($1,618) for the faculties of economics, media and science.
Galala University in Suez Governorate, north-east of Egypt, earns 120 thousand pounds ($3883) for medicine, 107,000 pounds ($3,462) for dentistry, 85,000 pounds ($2,750) for pharmacy and 69,000 pounds ($2,233) for engineering and computer sciences.
Private universities duplicate the bill of expenses and administrative fees for foreign students and adopt an annual increase that may reach 7 per cent. This way, the annual expenses exceed half a million pounds ($16,000) and may reach 700,000 pounds ($22,000), at the American University, Misr International University, 6th of October Private University and others.
The Father of a female student studying at a private university spoke to Middle East Monitor, saying: “The issue is completely a business”, noting that Egyptian students who obtained the General Secondary School certificate from abroad pay tuition fees in their home country in US dollars.
He added: “There is a great disparity between the level of private and non-governmental universities. Some of them have twinning agreements with international universities and some of them enjoy international recognition, but some of them which are weak, do not have the needed capabilities and expertise.”
Students and parents complain about the lack of hospitals in some private universities that allow the study of medical majors. This means that these university inject unqualified students to the labour market, whether inside or outside Egypt.
Turning education into business
Tuition fees of the 27 government universities in Egypt is low, 2,000 pounds ($65) a year; however, they were dragged to business.
Since last year, a new system, based on accredited hours has been used, and students are not admitted to universities before paying the costs before-hand.
A student pays to study at Helwan University, south of Cairo, based on the new system, 320 pounds ($10.5) per credit hour for the faculty of science, 375 pounds ($12) per credit hour in the faculty of home economics, and the price rises more to reach 650 pounds ($25) per credit hour in other faculties, such as in the faculty of economics and political sciences at Cairo University, while the price of one accredited hour in the fall and spring semesters rises to 1,300 pounds ($42), while the price in the summer semester rises to 1,625 pounds ($52) per hour in the departments of engineering colleges at the same university.
Ahmad Ali, 18, says he got 39 out of 40 in the final score of the German language, but he could not attend his favourite department at Helwan University after it had raised the admission criteria to 40 degrees in order to meet the requirements of accredited hour system, which accepts 30 degrees in return for annual fees worth 2,000 pounds ($647).
The British QS World University Rankings 2023 did not include any government, non-government or private Egyptian university among the top 500 universities in the world, except the American University in Cairo, which ranked 416.
The source of danger lies in the increasing number of non-government and private universities and institutes, which commoditise education, at the expense of government universities. This wastes the right to get free government university education, and sees the state conceding its role as a guarantor of quality education in the non-government and private universities as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Egyptian Constitution.
The dangers of the expected repercussions increase with the increasing effects of the financial component on the educational system, which means that education in the future will be only for the rich, and that prestigious colleges and majors will be for those who pay the most, while the poor will face the risk of losing the right to education in a country suffering high prices, collapse of domestic currency and deterioration of living conditions under current President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.