Two Gulf Countries Limit Students Sent to Egypt
CAIRO– Egyptian universities have begun the academic year with no new government-sponsored master’s degree and Ph.D. students from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, triggering a debate about the quality of higher education in Egypt.
The Saudi decision, issued in August, does not affect students currently studying in Egypt, or undergraduates.
Qatar’s Ministry of Higher Education excluded Egyptian universities from its list of approved universities, meaning that even if a Qatari student attended an Egyptian university at his own expense, his degree would not be recognized at home.
“With the increasing numbers of forged master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Egypt, the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education decided to stop postgraduate admissions to Egypt for an indefinite period of time,” said Hussein Mohammed, a lawyer at the Saudi Embassy in Egypt.
Mustafa Shahin, an Egyptian journalist at Al-Jazeera.net in Doha, confirmed that the list of universities accredited by the Qatari Ministry in 2016 does not include any Egyptian universities.
The decision by the two Gulf states was surprising for many Egyptian academics.
“The timing of this decision seems strange,” said Khaled Dahawy, vice president for student affairs at the American University in Cairo. “It might have some political reason as regards to Qatar,” he said, referring to tense relations between Egypt and Qatar after the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the former Egyptian president, who had strong Qatari support.
Dahawy could not find a political reason for the Saudi decision, especially with the recent improvement in Egyptian-Saudi relations.
“Talk about forged diplomas is not an excuse for such a decision, because such diplomas are not issued by Egyptian universities but are forged by others in the country,” he said.
Dahawy stressed the high quality of postgraduate diplomas in Egypt. “Egypt’s universities are of the best in the Arab region,” he said.
Fayez Barakat, a member of the Egyptian parliament’s education committee, called for the Ministry of Higher Education to investigate the reasons for the decisions.
“The Minister of Higher Education has to clarify the reasons that led Saudi Arabia and Qatar to take such a decision, in order to avoid seeing other countries taking similar decisions,” he said.
Barakat thinks “education in Egypt is witnessing a sharp deterioration at all levels, especially with the low standard of scientific research and the spread of exam leaks.”
In an intervention on an Egyptian satellite TV channel two months ago, Helmy Nimnim, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, said, “Egypt ranked the first worldwide in ‘plagiarism’ in universities.”
Al-Ameer Sahsah, a professor of journalism at the Faculty of Arts at Assiut University, south of Cairo, does not deny the existence of plagiarism in Egypt. But he rejects the accusation that Egyptian universities issue forged diplomas.
“Academic plagiarism is prevalent worldwide,” Sahsah said. “But this is not the only indicator of the quality of education. Moreover, all diplomas issued by Egyptian universities are electronically protected, and they carry watermarks to prevent counterfeiting.”
Arab and foreign students form a good resource for Egypt’s universities, according to Mahmoud Mahjoub, a teacher of public relations at the Faculty of Arts at Minia University, south of Cairo. “Cairo University’s budget gets more than $30 million annually from Arab and foreign students’ enrollment fees in its various faculties. Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s decisions would significantly affect the universities’ budgets,” he said.
There are more than 40,000 students from Arab, African, and Asian countries studying at Egypt’s public and private universities, both at their own expense and at their government’s expense, according to Shehata Gharib, professor of public law and external relations coordinator at Assiut University.
Cairo University ranks first in terms of the number of foreign students, with around 10,000, while nearly 6,700 foreign students attend Benha University. Other foreign students are distributed over more than 30 public and private universities. “Students from Gulf countries constitute the largest proportion of foreign students in Egypt, with Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia on the top list of Arab counties sending their students to study here,” Gharib said.
The cost for an academic year for students in master’s degree and doctoral programs at Egypt’s public universities is about $6,000 for the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, around $5,000 for the Faculties of Engineering, Commerce, Information, and Pharmacy, about $4,000 for the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine, Science, and Nursing, and $3,000 for graduate institutes, according to the Ministry of Higher Education. A one-time registration fee of $1,500 is added to this.
Gaber Nassar, president of Cairo University, acknowledges the need to restart what he called “the reformation of education in Egypt”. He said that “quality control programs are mostly for appearance, and their standards cannot be properly applied.”
Nassar also believes that the decline in the quality of education in Egypt’s universities would not affect Arab and foreign students alone, but it will also push Egyptian students away.
“We are aware of this problem. We are working to reform quality governance and supervisory structure,” he said.
However, Ali Shams El-Din, the former president of Benha University, which is second to Cairo University in the number of enrolled Arab students, does not believe that the quality of education is the only component to attract students to study in Egypt.
“There are other factors, including the security situation, living and studying costs, and the admission requirements,” he said.
Mansour Hassan, a Yemeni postgraduate student at the Faculty of Arts’ Islamic Studies Department at Assiut University, agrees that studying in Egypt has many privileges.
“As Arab students, we do not feel alienated here,” Hassan said. “Besides, the cost of studying and living here is very manageable compared to other Arab countries.”