Participation in Student Activities Drops in Egypt
ASSIUT—Ninety-five percent of Egyptian students are reluctant to participate in activities organized by Egyptian universities, according to a new study by Assiut University.
University budget cuts, the way that universities try to manage student events, and concerns about the political risks of activities seem to be the chief forces that are driving participation down.
In the last academic year, 2015-2016, only two percent of students participated in a large number of activities, while only 3 percent of them participated in one or two activities.
Egyptian student activities usually include culture, arts, and sports. Universities organize competitions, exhibitions, and festivals to encourage students to participate in university life. Activities also include cultural exchanges with students from other universities inside Egypt and abroad.
“There are many reasons behind the decline in student participation,” said Omar Sayyid Khalil, the director of the University Education Development Center, which conducted the study. “Some are related to the nature of the activities themselves; others are due to how they are planned and implemented.”
But many students and professors blame the decline in student participation on universities themselves.
“Reducing the number and quality of student activities appears to be part of a larger policy aimed at limiting and reducing youth activities on campuses to the minimum,” said Bakinaz Zedan, a professor of dams and water resources engineering at Tanta University.
The reduction of student activities comes in line with the current political reality in Egypt, according to Zedan. The country is witnessing increasing restrictions on personal, public and academic freedoms, especially after Egypt’s President Abed Fattah el-Sisi announced a state of emergency in the country for three months, in response to bombings that targeted Mar Girgis Church in Tanta and St. Mark Cathedral in Alexandria last month.
The reduction in the number of activities and the restrictions on their quality takes many forms. Some causes are direct, such as the cancellation of some activities; others are indirect, such as cutting the annual budgets for activities. There can also be administrative interference in the work of student unions and their events.
For example, the budget for student activities at Ain Shams University—Egypt’s second largest university, which is attended by more than 169,000 students this year—did not exceed 500,000 Egyptian Pounds ($27,000), while the university’s budget is 1.3 billion Egyptian Pounds ($72 million), according to university officials.
Injy Ahmed, a student activity officer at Cairo University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, complained about the budget for student events there. “There are indirect instructions to reduce the activities at faculties due to the lack of enough finances,” said Ahmed. “For example, we asked for 3,000 Egyptian Pounds ($170) for a sports day, but we received only 1,200 Egyptian Pounds ($66) from the administration. That left students very frustrated.”
Students and some professors say administrators take an unwieldy approach to regulating student events. “The universities’ strategy to develop and implement student activities is restricted by the bureaucracy that limits innovation and the dominance of the teaching and administrative staff on the quality of activities,” said Lubna Abdul Mageed, a professor at Helwan University’s Social Work Faculty. Mageed said administrators should let students organize their own activities.
Manal Eid, a professor at the Higher Institute of Social Work in Port Said, agrees with Abdul Mageed that student activities no longer meet the needs of university students. “The student activities at our universities are still limited to sports and art competitions, without any employment of modern technology that attracts the youth nowadays,” Eid said. He said the university should figure out what kinds of events students want and develop those kinds of activities.
Mohammed Issa, a professor of music at Ain Shams University, believes that the troubled Egyptian economy pushes down student participation in activities.
“Students’ social and economic reality today is different from what it used to be ten years ago,” he said. “Inflation, devaluation of the currency, and high prices are driving many students at the major universities in Cairo and Alexandria to work alongside their studies to secure their expenses. They sometimes do not even have the time to attend their lectures.”
Students give their own reasons for low participation rates. “I do not have enough time to practice any activity,” said Rehab Lutfi, a third-grade law student at Assiut University, who said her studies require a lot of time to memorize the required material. “My family does not encourage me to participate in such activities, to avoid mingling with male students,” she added.
Tamer Wasfi, a fourth-grade engineering student at Minya University, says he has not heard of any student activity since he joined the university.
“I do not know how to participate in student activities,” said Wasfi. “I often hear of them after they ended. I think they are exclusive for a specific group of students who are close to the administrators and who are often chosen because they are expected to be in student delegations that would travel abroad.”
The Assiut University study recommends encouraging students to participate in student activities by reviewing the nature and numbers of activities, granting more opportunities for students to choose their activities, and finding mentors from the faculty to encourage students to participate by explaining their nature and advantages.
Amr Ajlan, a medical student at Tanta University who has participated in many student-exchange activities in Egypt and abroad, hopes to see more student activities that include a larger variety of students.
“I have gained many skills on the personal level through my participation in cultural-exchange activities, which have been positively reflected on my studies,” said Ajlan. “I hope these activities will be developed and supported to enable all university students to take part in them.”