Egyptian education needs reform, not just spending: experts
Ahmed Feteha, Sunday 12 Jun 2011
Funding for education as a percentage of GDP remains constant but experts warn throwing more money at deep-rooted problems will have little effect

Last week's announcement of an apparent raise in Egyptian educational funding is disputed in relative terms and is likely to fail to tackle the sector's deep-set problems, say economic and development experts.

While education expenditure in the 2011/2012 proposed budget grew by 14.5 per cent to reach LE55.6 billion, its proportion of total expenditure actually declined, from 11.7 per cent in 2010/2011 to 10.7 per cent in 2011/2012

Experts do not expect much improvement from the 'throw more money' approach the current government and the preceding ones have been taking.

“Spending more money without prioritising educational goals will not result in any improvement,” says Magda Qandil, head of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES).

While education expenditures have been growing in absolute terms since 2003, they have been declining in relative terms, comprising 16.2 per cent of expenditures and 4.9 per cent in total GDP in 2003. The current plans keep the proportion stable at 3.5 per cent of GDP.

The contribution of education expenditures to GDP in Egypt is one of the lowest in the MENA region; the figure was 5.7 per cent in both Saudi Arabia and Morocco in 2008.

70 per cent of total spending on higher education goes to wages. Non-academic staff absorb 50 per cent, leaving relatively meagre funds to be directed towards research, facilities and curricula upgrades.

Proper allocation of funds is a pivotal issue in education reform according to Alaa El-Shazly, an economics professor at Cairo University.

“Is the increase in funds directed towards educational tools? Are we injecting money in the proper educational stages?” he asks.

Cairo University is the only university in Egypt in the top 500 universities worldwide; China has 16 universities on the list, Turkey has five.

A major problem in the educational system in Egypt is the mismatch between the skills demanded by job market and the output of the educational system.

In Q1 2011, 29 per cent of unemployed individuals were holders of university degrees, according to statistics from CAPMAS. 84 per cent of the unemployed are between the ages of 15 to 29 years old.

Such an imbalance results in a very low return on education in Egypt compared to the rest of the world, according to a study by World Bank staffers Santiago Herrera and Karim Badr.

A recent study by ECES titled 'Skill demand polarization in Egypt' concludes that the lack of a national accreditation and certification system that engages the private sector is one of the main reasons skills are not properly rewarded in the job market.

One suggested solution is the decentralisation of the education system.

“Egypt needs an educational plan with objectives changing from one locality to another, so it can meet specific needs of different geographic areas,” says Magda Qandil. “If elected bodies are accountable for specific objectives we will definitely see an improvement in educational output."

Soheir Konsowa, a development expert, says that decentralisation may indeed be a solution, but it should be carefully controlled especially in curricula.

“As Egypt doesn’t have universal values that everybody agrees upon, educational objectives should be centrally determined," he argues.