ASSIUT—Egypt’s public universities started using electronic textbooks instead of printed books this year as the first step in a controversial plan to move the country’s higher education system toward a digitally “smart” university system within two years.
“I think this is an important and significant shift in the development of higher education, using advanced methods to provide educational services,” said Tarek El-Gammal, a professor of orthopedics and president of Assiut University.
Some faculty members and students, however, have raised concerns about the plan, and worry about the potential cost to families.
The new system is being adopted in three stages. The first phase, which is under way now, is to provide the curriculum on CDs instead of books. Later, these curricula will be uploaded to the university website, and finally the curricula will be converted into interactive courses linking professor and students.
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The new system is being applied in all faculties at six Egyptian universities: Assiut, Ain Shams, Kafrelsheikh, Helwan, Suez and Cairo Universities. The system is also being put in place in a limited number of faculties at the other 21 public universities. It is expected to be applied in all colleges starting from the second semester of the current academic year.
Differing Views on Costs
“Introducing the e-book system aims to reduce the economic burden on the university and on students and parents, and to confront the printed books ‘mafia’ which exploits students by selling books at high prices,” said El-Gammal, of Assiut University. He estimated that the cost of e-books for the entire academic year would not exceed half the cost of printed ones. (The average price of books for an academic year at Assiut’s Faculty of Arts, for example, is about 700 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to $42).