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Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Universities of the future

A new generation of Egyptian universities are opening new venues of education

Ahmed Abdel-Hafez, Tuesday 1 Sep 2020
Universities of the future
KSIU in Sinai
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Non-profit private universities are “a new generation of Egyptian universities”, as described in a press release from the Ministry for Higher Education and Scientific Research. King Salman International University (KSIU) in Sinai, Alamein International University in New Alamein, Galala University in Galala, and New Mansoura University in New Mansoura are the first four of the new educational project that the Egyptian government set into motion two years ago. Two of these — KSIU and Galala University — will open their doors to students in October, the former in its new premises in Sharm El-Sheikh and Tor, the latter in New Galala City, a modern urban development project south of Suez, overlooking the Gulf of Suez.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi praised the non-profit universities project during an inauguration ceremony of several development projects in New Alamein overlooking the Mediterranean west of Alexandria. This is a “promising project that will contribute to building the future of this nation. No country can advance without advanced education,” Al-Sisi said.

“The non-profit universities aim to compete globally in the realm of science and technology and in culture by providing high quality education that promotes innovation and forms a generation capable of becoming regional and global pioneers while preserving the Egyptian identity and strengthening bonds with Arab and African countries.” So reads the Ministry of Higher Education’s letter to prospective applicants to these new universities which have already drawn such an enthusiastic response that they were forced to extend the entrance exam and registration period to the end of September.

A central aim of these non-profit universities is to forge a direct link between higher education and the labour market through flexible curricula that can accommodate the needs of the labour market. According to Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar, media advisor and official spokesman of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, a study has already been conducted on Egypt’s development needs in diverse sectors. “Based on this study, we have identified the job and specialisation categories required by the labour market within the framework of the development plans for the next five years. This study was also used to design the courses and curricula of the new Egyptian non-profit universities.”

The non-profit universities will operate in accordance with the same law that applies to other private universities. In 1996, parliament passed a bill presented by the Egyptian government at the time, permitting the establishment of private and non-profit colleges and universities under the supervision of the Supreme Council for Private and Non-Profit Universities. State universities at the time were reeling under intense pressure, not least overcrowding, funding problems and lack of facilities for scientific research. There was also a high demand for enrolment in particular faculties, such as medicine and engineering, because of a rigid placement system that would reject students merely because they fell a point or two below the required level. The new law to clear the way for private universities was seen as a means to alleviate the pressure on state universities and solve funding problems, said Dean President of the British University Ahmed Hamad.

According to Hamad, under the new law, three new non-profit universities were established: Nile University, the National Egyptian E-Learning University (EELU) and the French University in Egypt. From this first experiment it became clear that these institutions would face funding problems because under the law regulating private and non-profit universities, while the profits made by the former would be distributed among the founders, the surplus income of the latter had to be reinvested into developing their educational services precisely because they were non-profit institutions. As a result, for nearly a decade no new non-profit universities were established in Egypt. Then Al-Sisi launched the fully government funded non-profit university project. The new disciplines that have been introduced into the new non-profit universities are all geared to serving the country’s future needs. “It is an experiment that is both bold and risky and requires government backing to support these disciplines,” Hamad said.

To illustrate the concept, Nihal Al-Megharbel, former vice minister of planning, monitoring and administrative reform, cited the example of the plans for Alamein International University. There, the main focus will be on tourism and hotel services in order to serve the tourist industry in New Alamein where the vision is to support year-round tourism targeting a global clientele, as opposed to the seasonal tourism that primarily caters to domestic summer holiday vacationers. As this vision demands special standards of hotel and tourist services, the new university designed a programme along the lines of Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne (Lausanne Hotel School - EHL) which offers an unconventional curriculum that combines practical and theoretical training and links students with career opportunities in the vicinity before they graduate.

“Experience tells us that there are whole cities that were built around and thrived around a university or two at most,” Al-Megharbel told Al-Ahram Weekly. “There are many examples of world class universities named after the cities in which they were founded because they were the project that achieved the growth and development of those cities. Lyon is an example. There are three universities in that city, specialising in medicine and engineering. The banking sector funds the students in these universities because their university and their graduates serve the primary industries in that city.”

In Al-Megharbel’s opinion the new non-profit universities project is a necessity in a world of rapid and unprecedented changes in economics and technology. “It is hard to predict the number or types of jobs that society will need during the next 20 years. This is why the new universities in the world today are looking for and financing students with the skills and personal traits that endow them with the flexibility necessary to undergo the transformational training they need to shift from one sector that collapses or suffers recession to another more promising sector that still has employment openings. This is why the future-needs study that the government undertook for the main growth and employment sectors must remain flexible and should be constantly reviewed and updated.”

Educational expert Ahmed Muradi believes that the greatest educational challenge in the world is to develop the skills suited to today’s world. One of the main features of that world can be summed up in the fact that the five largest economic entities in the world are all high tech companies that offer electronic services. Apple and Uber are global examples.

“The new non-profit universities in Egypt, whether or not they are funded by the government, will have to equip students with the skills that enhance their innovativeness, creativity and competitiveness in a global market that depends on new technologies and fresh ideas. We are speaking about a world moving towards an economic model that relies on human beings, with the ideas, products and services they offer using new technologies, as the main capital. It is an economy that will no longer be as dependent on oil capital in the Gulf or other types of conventional wealth.”

Muradi added that global studies predict that the world will see the emergence of 70,000 new job titles by 2030, most involving specialisations that are not currently taught in existing academic institutions. “Already job seekers frequently need to master more than one specialisation in order to meet the needs of today’s job market. For example, hospitals that have directorship openings are no longer just looking for highly qualified doctors. They also want someone who specialises in management or, better, a medical practitioner who has also studied the management of medical facilities.” The multidiscipline job title will soon become the rule rather than the exception, in Muradi’s opinion.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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