Minister of Education Tarek Shawki issued a ministerial decree on 20 January allowing unlimited foreign ownership of international and private schools in Egypt. According to the decree, schools must be owned by a company registered in Egypt.
The company, however, could be owned by other companies, funds or individuals of any nationality.
The minister was amending a previous ministerial decree that was issued in 2019.
Over the past decade, Egypt has been witnessing a steady increase in private equity funds and investors interested in education. This was the case until the November 2019 ministerial decree was issued thus bringing the unprecedented, speedy increase of private sector investments in the education industry to a halt. The 2019 decree limited the ownership of foreigners in the capital of private schools, and schools applying an international curriculum in Egypt, to 20 per cent.
According to Reda Hegazi, deputy to the Ministry of Education, private sector investments are essential to the educational process.
“Egypt needs LE130 billion to establish new schools, while the budget allocated for this purpose does not exceed 10 per cent of the country’s education budget, which amounts to LE158 billion.
Some 94 per cent of the total is spent on salaries, five per cent on building new schools, and one per cent on developing education.
We need 250,000 classes annually but what is being built are only 15,000 which is insufficient and being eroded by the country’s overpopulation,” Hegazi said, referring to a population growing by 800,000 people a year.
Hegazi noted that the number of international schools in Egypt which are owned by foreigners or in which foreigners have a share is around 260 out of 56,569 public, language (private) and experimental schools. Most of these schools adopt the foreign curricula along with the Egyptian system.
Education expert Kamal Moghith believes the decision to allow unlimited foreign ownership is not being thought through carefully.
“This decree will destroy future generations, as schools will be owned by a company registered in Egypt but it could be other companies, funds, or individuals whose policies could be against ours, or they have a nationality which might be a threat to our national security,” Moghith said.
Moghith told Al-Ahram Weekly that the ministry should “protect the minds of the future generation against the foreign invasion which controls them. The minister must not allow foreigners to own Egyptian schools because they will set up a previously prepared curricula to form the coming generation in a way that serves their needs, not ours,” he argued.
The ministerial decree has however stipulated that the concerned authorities would have the right to refuse granting a licence to any educational entity if the ministry sees that it does not add any value to the educational process, or represents a threat to the country’s national security.
Meanwhile, education investors are satisfied with the new ministerial decree as they believe it is a step towards re-attracting serious investors to the education industry. Ahmed Wahbi, CEO of GEMS Education Egypt, a private sector education provider, said the new ministerial decree will boost investment in the education sector and help current operators improve their services and meet the demand for education services.
The company, which is a joint venture with investment bank EFG Hermes, intends during the next two years to invest $300 million in building 30 private schools, with a capacity of 25,000-30,000 students, Wahbi said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.