Egypt strives to be hub for foreign universities
CAIRO - Egypt took a firm step on the road towards becoming an international centre for higher education with the signing of an agreement with the University of Liverpool, which could lead to the construction of a branch of the British university in Cairo.
The agreement is the latest deal in which campuses and branches of top international universities are to be established in a new administrative capital Egypt is building on the outskirts of Cairo.
Some of the university branches are nearing completion and others are preparing to receive students in September.
“The construction of branches of international universities here is a top priority for us,” said Adel Abdel Ghaffar, a spokesman for Egypt’s Higher Education Ministry. “The government takes this drive very seriously.”
Egypt is hoping the foreign university branches will contribute to raising the educational and scientific standards of national universities. There are several established international university campuses in Egypt, including the American University, the British University and the German University, all in Cairo.
Egypt’s national universities, once the top in the region, have dropped behind international private universities and regional rivals. The national universities include some of the oldest in the Arab world and provide free education to Egyptians.
Agreements signed with foreign universities in Europe and North America include articles for cooperation in scientific research between them and Egyptian universities.
The agreements also allow for Egyptian university staff members to acquire training and experience at the international universities before returning to Egypt’s national universities to lead educational reform.
The Egyptian cabinet approved Egypt’s first bill on the work of foreign universities in May. The bill has been referred to parliament for debate and approval. It includes incentives for foreign universities to open branches in Egypt, such as cheap land and tax exemptions.
Behind the drive for convincing foreign universities to establish branches in Egypt is Cairo’s desire to function as a magnet for international investments in education. Egypt is banking on huge demand for quality education services from Egyptians and Arab and African expats.
The Ministry of Higher Education surveyed 30,000 Egyptians who are studying at universities in other parts of the world, especially in the United States, Canada and Europe.
“A huge number of Arab students also travel to the same areas for study,” Abdel Ghaffar said. “They can come here to receive the same educational services and the same educational certificates.”
Egypt wants to use its geographical proximity to an important market for top international universities in functioning as a meeting point between students and institutions of higher learning.
Eight international universities have established campuses in the new administrative capital. Canada’s University of Prince Edward Island will open its campus in September.
Accompanying the University of Liverpool officials visiting Cairo in late June were those from other British universities who were exploring the prospect of establishing branches in Egypt.
“UK and Egyptian universities have been working together for many years. It’s extremely important that we expand access to the highest quality of education to Egypt’s large youth population,” said delegation head Vivienne Stern, director of the Universities UK International group.
“It is exciting to mark the group of UK-Egyptian university engagement across a variety of areas, particularly in the last five years: the delivery of UK degrees in Egypt; Egyptian scholars welcomed to the UK; and research collaboration.”
The officials met with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli, who expressed enthusiasm about the presence of foreign universities in his country. They, Madbouli said, would have very positive effects on the standards of Egyptian education.
It would help the Egyptian economy, educational experts said. If the university branches attract large numbers of students — both Egyptian and international — every year, education can become an important source of national income.
“Other countries, including the US, have succeeded in turning education into a huge industry and a major source of income,” said Magda Bakri, an educational expert and a member of the Education Committee in parliament.
“Egypt is even more qualified than these countries to do this, thanks to affordable living conditions in it, its proximity to other countries in the region and also to the presence of strong cultural affinities between it and other Arab and African states.”
The new drive is mixed with longing on the part of Egyptians for the country to return to its traditional supremacy in education and culture. In the past, Egypt was the cultural and educational powerhouse of the Arab world, a position Cairo struggles to reoccupy now.
One of the challenges facing Egypt is to convince Arab, African and national students to prefer Cairo for study over London or other international cities.
“This will not be easy at all, given the strong record of competitors,” Bakri said. “Success will take time to happen but the rewards are worth the effort that will be made to reach this success.”