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Egypt's private universities form union against new charter

Several private universities in Egypt split from the Egyptian Student Union to establish their own after the approval of a controversial charter

Reem Gehad , Tuesday 22 Jan 2013
(Photo by: Reem Gihad)
(Photo by: Reem Gihad)
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Student unions of eight private universities formed on Tuesday the Egyptian Private Universities Union (EPUU).

The EPUU's new student union was announced at a press conference held at the American University in Cairo (AUC) on Tuesday.

The EPUU, an eight-member body, consists of the American University in Cairo, the German University in Cairo, the British University in Egypt, Misr International University, El Asher University, the Egyptian Russian University, Nile University and the French University in Egypt.

AUC student union president Taher El Moataz Bellah said that private universities were never part of the Egyptian Student Union for public universities in the first place to call their separation an official one.

Several Egyptian private universities, like many student groups in public universities, are very critical of how the ESU drafted the charter.

They claim they were not involved in the writing process and that the charter does not represent them fairly.

The university charter, which was approved by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil last week, sets the regulations of public universities in Egypt.

The charter also includes a section on the workings of the ESU, which originally acted as an umbrella for public and private universities. This section, made up of four articles, lays the general charter of the ESU for public universities.

"According to this section, all private universities have two seats out of 25 in the ESU’s general assembly and do not have the right to sit on the ESU’s executive office," Mohamed Alaa, a member of AUC's student union said.

The EPUU is currently working on its own charter to regulate proceedings between the private universities and form an entity that represents them collectively, while keeping each university’s individual internal set of regulation in place.

"This charter will stay until the ESU decides it wants to reconsider and take a different approach and makes changes to include us properly in its union," Alaa said.

If the ESU does not take steps to tackle the issue, the EPUU will present its charter to the Supreme Council of Universities to request an official approval.

Shady Ibrahim, member of the ESU executive office, told Ahram Online, that the charter was written this way because the Egyptian university regulations law does not include private universities.

Private universities instead have their own separate regulations law.

"This would have created a legal issue for us, but we are calling for issuing a university regulations law that would include both public and private universities," Ibrahim said.

The EPUU considers this to be an "illogical justification" for the unfair representation of private universities in the charter.

"This charter is like the universities’ constitution," Alaa said.

"No one writes down the constitution according to the laws already in place, but the opposite should happen. We write in this charter the most desired and fair situation we want and then work on changing the laws to conform."

The EPUU also criticised the fact that the charter was not put on referendum for students to approve or reject it.

Several student leaders expressed their dissatisfaction at the situation.

Mohamed El Gazar, SU president at the Egyptian Russian University said, "Many students in private universities face problems every day. We too need someone to represent us and carry our voice to the ministry [of higher education].

El-Gazar also added that excluding private university students or any certain group of students, from the decision-making offices of the ESU weakens it.

“Many students could have ideas and suggestions to develop the higher education system in Egypt and take part in solving the problems,” he said, “They should not be cast away.”

El Moataz Bellah said that forming the EPUU was the last option they wanted.

"If we did not take our rights this year, we never will. We needed to find an entity to protect us," he said.

The ESU was also criticized for being influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

"We don't necessarily mind that the leaders were part of the Brotherhood as long as they gave everyone else fair representation, but this did not happen," Bellah said.

On Thursday, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression filed a lawsuit in Egypt's administrative court against Qandil's recent approval of the charter calling it "unconstitutional."

According to article 162 in the constitution, President Mohamed Morsi should have been the one to approve the charter.

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