When a “Solution” Becomes a Problem
CAIRO—The Supreme Council of Universities wants to apply a new geographical distribution system for students who want to enroll in the Faculty of Mass Communication or the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences in Cairo University. Those two faculties will only admit students from Cairo, Ismailia, Suez, Port Said, and Sinai, explicitly excluding students from other Egyptian governorates. If students in the excluded governorates study in their home universities, they would not get the same quality of education as they would at Cairo University.
The new resolution applies no matter what the students’ grades are.
The supporters of the resolution believe that it would ultimately decrease the load on universities in the capital and reduce the alienation of students coming from the outlying cities. The new system would be applied by identifying the geographical location of students in the national exam at the end of secondary school, known as Thanweya Amma, and limiting their university choices only to faculties at universities near them. Resolution supporters say that the Cairo University Faculty of Mass Communication simply doesn’t have enough places to accept students from all over Egypt. Some think that this new arrangment would eventually solve several problems, such as overcrowded dormitories, transportation, and classrooms.
But the Supreme Council of Universities’ resolution contradicts the UN rapporteur’s report on the right to education issued in the U.N. Human Rights Council. The report said that member states shall eliminate any discrimination and ensure equality and availability of education opportunities. This new Egyptian resolution explicitly contradicts that principle of equality and fairness in higher education.
True equality would require that all applicants have the chance to apply in any faculty according to their grades, regardless of the students’ location, especially given that all Egyptian students sit for the same exams.
Most students who wish to study mass communication or economics want to go to Cairo University, which is known to be strong in those two disciplines The mass communications department has technical equipment and offers practical training. Most other Egyptian public universities lack the technical equipment, the studios, and faculty members with practical experience.
The solution to the problem of the increasing number of mass-communication students in Cairo is not to deny their right of admission there, but to develop the faculties of mass communication in their own governorates. If Cairo needs more dormitories and better transportation then they should be improved, rather than trying to solve those problems by shutting out students. That would mean planning more student housing units, planning for better traffic flow, and re-organizing transportation.
The Minister of Higher Education has objected to geographical distribution, and pointed out that the resolution was taken by the Supreme Council of Universities. In an interview, the Minister said that he can’t overrule the council’s resolutions, which are decided by a majority vote of the council’s members. He called upon the council to reconsider the resolution to avoid depriving qualified students from their right to join a certain faculty because of where they live.
He added that the council members and other senior officials have to give priority to equality in higher education. Also, he said, it is important that students from the capital interact with students from other governorates as it will prevent the country from being split and benefit Egyptian society.
If Egypt strengthens regional universities while improving student transportation and housing in Cairo, later on it might encourage students to study at the university closest to them without harming the basic principle of equality in education.
Ehab Hamdi is a lecturer of journalism and mass communication at Alexandria University.