This article was published in conjunction with Madamasr.com .
CAIRO— Pharmacist Sara Mahmoud paid almost 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($562) for her clinical pharmacy degree at Tanta University, a large sum in Egypt. She had hoped to then enroll in the Pharm-D Diploma — essentially a requirement to progress in her career — only to find the tuition fees jumping to from 11,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,200) to 36,000 Egyptian pounds. ($4,000).
“The university decided to raise the tuition fees from 100 (Egyptian pounds) per credit hour to 300 (Egyptian pounds). I’m not going to enroll in any more diplomas,” Mahmoud says. “And I’m encouraging my colleagues to look for other alternatives.”
Mahmoud’s complaints are echoed by thousands of university graduates wishing to pursue their master’s and doctoral degrees and facing tuition increases at public universities across Egypt.
The situation is particularly dire in the medical field, where doctoral degrees are essential for any career. Opening a clinic, for instance, is impossible for doctors or dentists without a degree beyond a bachelor’s.
There has been no official explanation of the tuition increases. There are no university bylaws regulating rates for public universities, and prices are left entirely for each university administration to determine.
A number of medical graduates say that based on their experiences, the tuition increases appear to depend predominantly on the ranking of the universities and the popularity of the courses.
The sudden, sharp increases in cost are not accompanied by higher quality education, Mahmoud says. “The curriculum is no different from what I studied in my senior undergraduate year. The courses are mostly theoretical and the laboratories badly equipped—imagine a lab without an AC or even fans. We take our exams in tents built in the open air or in the corridors.”
Graduates of private universities will have to pay tuition five times higher than public-university graduates if they want to pursue their postgraduate studies at public universities.
Representatives of the Supreme Council for Postgraduate Studies and Research were not available to comment. The former deputy dean for postgraduate studies at Tanta University medical school, Ahmed al-Guindy, explained the logic behind the recent price increases.
“Universities simply want to get more income, and raising tuition for postgraduate studies, especially through the credit-hours system, is an excellent resource,” he says, especially since medical graduates are obliged to pursue their master’s degrees to be allowed to open medical clinics.
The Health Ministry is obliged to cover the tuition fees of postgraduate studies of its medical staff “within the limitations of the ministry’s own resources,” according to Law 137/2014 which organizes the affairs of medical workers. Guindy believes that this article of the law should be activated — it never has been.
“The university increases its financial resources, but this should not be at the expense of students, who are already poorly paid in the public hospitals where they work,” he added.
The Doctors Syndicate issued a statement in March appealing to the heads of universities to halt recent tuition increases, citing the low income of young doctors as a major obstacle to paying such expensive tuition. In another appeal to the Health Ministry, the syndicate contends that many doctors are unwilling to pursue degrees due to these recent increases, and that this will dramatically affect the quality of medical services across the country. Later, the syndicate had to send an official warning to the ministry to comply with the law.
The syndicate also claimed that 60 percent of recent medical school graduates could not find positions for scientific and professional training due to limited income and financial resources.
Even those who have the financial means believe that postgraduate degrees from Egypt are not worth the money. Gastroenterologist Faisal Hemida has applied for a fellowship at the UK-based Royal College of Surgeons, a professional membership organization representing doctors in the UK and abroad.
This would set Hemida back around 40,000 Egyptian pounds ($4,500) a year but he is willing to pay it for the chance to work abroad that would open up.
“The RCS fellowship is the gate for migration to US and Europe, as well as the Gulf countries,” he explains. “More young doctors are escaping the painful reality of deteriorating health services in Egypt.”
“Master’s degrees in Egypt are purely paper-based and there is zero research,” Hemida says. “It is just a piece of paper so that you can open a medical clinic.”
In dentistry, the situation is arguably even worse. A board member of the Dentists Syndicate, Mohamed Badawy, says that tuition fees for master’s programs have seen large increases. “University administrations look at education as a source of profit,” he says.
The number of medical school graduates is increasing every year, while the seats for postgraduate studies are very limited. The Doctors Syndicate said in an earlier statement that postgraduate studies in public universities can only enroll 4,000 doctors annually, compared to the 10,000 new graduates that universities produce every year.
Badawy explains that the increasing numbers of graduates is due to new private medical schools opening each year. “We appealed to the Supreme Council of Universities to stop approving more medical schools, but private universities want to make more money. As a result, universities raise the tuition fees to receive less applications.”
According to Badawy, Egypt is on the brink of surpassing the average international percentage of dentists per citizen. “We filed a lawsuit against the Supreme Council of Universities to halt these tuition increases or to oblige the Health Ministry to pay the tuition, but to no avail.
“The average income for young dentists is 1,600 (Egyptian pounds),” he says. “How can they afford this expensive tuition?”
Those students who seek non-medical degrees also face tuition increases. Similar tuition increases in faculties of commerce and arts have also been announced since last year. A number of graduates protested against the increases in tuition fees for master’s degrees at Cairo University’s Faculty of Commerce last year. Similar protests broke out at Damanhour’s University Faculty of Education in 2015 following 50 percent increases in tuition fees.
A journalist, Sherbeny al-Attar, wanted to apply for a master’s degree in Mansoura University’s Faculty of Arts, only to be surprised by the increased cost. Pre-master’s diploma rose from 880 Egyptian pounds to 2,000 Egyptian pounds per year, while a master’s degree also jumped from 1,000 Egyptian pounds to 3,000 Egyptian pounds, and Ph.D.s rose to 4,000 Egyptian pounds annually.
“In total, a student would pay up to 22,000 Egyptian pounds to get a Ph.D. degree, and definitely students will seek the help of their families. I don’t know which family can pay this for their son or daughter. Students will have to prepare their thesis in less time to save money, which means less quality research,” al-Attar says. “Free education is now a myth in Egypt.”