Eight of Egypt’s 25 private universities have begun to offer graduate programs, awarding diplomas, master’s and doctoral degrees for the first time after a decision earlier this year by the Supreme Council of Private and Community Universities allowed them to do so.
Previously, graduate programs were allowed only at public universities and at a small group of private institutions in a separate category, those with international agreements, which include the American University in Cairo.
This change by the council, a governmental body within the Ministry of Higher Education, will mean more opportunities for students aspiring to higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree.
The decision has its critics, though. Many complain about the higher tuition fees at private institutions, and some express concerns about how to assure the quality of the education the institutions will provide. There are also concerns about the employment prospects of a larger number of students graduating with master’s and doctoral degrees at a time when college graduates already account for a large share of Egypt’s unemployed.
Advantages for Some Students
But students like Ashraf Mohammed Sayyid are willing to take their chances. Sayyid enrolled at the private October 6 University to pursue a master’s degree in business management this year, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree from the same university. He aspires to obtain an academic job at his university, which requires a master’s degree to be a faculty member.
Applying for a master’s degree at his university helped him avoid the administrative complications of moving to a public university to complete his studies, Sayyid said. “I would also be able to continue studying under the supervision of professors I have known for years,” he added.
“This move will ease the burden on public universities, which annually receive applications of millions of students who wish to complete their higher studies.”Maged Negm
President of Helwan University
He also got to avoid the intense competition for places in graduate programs at public universities, where private university students are often at a disadvantage.
“This move will ease the burden on public universities, which annually receive applications of millions of students who wish to complete their higher studies,” said Maged Negm, president of Helwan University, a public institution, and a member of the Supreme Council of Private Universities.
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Private universities that have started to offer master’s and Ph.D. programs do not require advanced academic credentials for admission, something welcomed by many students.
“I spent five years to get my master’s degree from Al-Azhar University’s Assiut Campus, because this opportunity was not offered at my university,” said Mohammed Mansour, who earned his undergraduate degree in the Faculty of Dentistry at the private Misr University for Science and Technology in 2013.
“The admission requirements were very difficult because I am a private university graduate,” said Mansour, who works in one of the Ministry of Health’s hospitals. “Today, new students have a great opportunity.”
High Tuition Fees
Despite widespread appreciation of the new decision, students complain about the high tuition fees for master’s and doctoral programs at private universities, which are considerably higher than those their public counterparts.
For example, registration fees for master’s degree programs in theoretical disciplines—subjects that are taught in a classroom rather than an equipped laboratory—at October 6 University and Misr University for Science and Technology cost about 32,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,000), while Ph.D. programs cost 48,000 pounds ($3,000). In practical disciplines, the fees are approximately 60,000 pounds ($3,750) for a master’s degree and 80,000 pounds ($5,000) for a doctorate.
At public universities, by comparison, a master’s degree in a theoretical discipline costs approximately 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($125), and a Ph.D. program costs 3,000 pounds ($187). Many students find even those fees burdensome. (See the related articles “Rising Fees Make Students Quit Master’s Degrees in Egypt” and “The Price of Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Jump in Egypt.”)
“Despite the high tuition fees for master’s degrees in private universities, I think that the academic return will be good.”Jihan Abdel Moneim
A master’s degree student at Assiut University’s Faculty of Commerce
Mansour believes the fees are too high and not commensurate with the financial situation of students who have already spent the majority of their family’s savings on getting a bachelor’s degree from a private university. “Graduate studies should not be a profit means,” he said. “Most students cannot pay such fees after graduation, and they must be reduced.”
Still, some students believe the new opportunity is worth the cost.
“Despite the high tuition fees for master’s degrees in private universities, I think that the academic return will be good,” said Jihan Abdel Moneim, a master’s degree student at Assiut University’s Faculty of Commerce who studies financial accounting.
Abdel Moneim believes that the academic level of studying at private universities is not as good as at public universities in terms of application prerequisites and the scientific benefit. She also thinks that costs at public universities may seem simple, but on the other hand there are expenses estimated in the thousands over the course of a program which are not included in these fees.
Concerns Over Quality Assurance
Some professors have raised concerns about the quality of new graduate programs at private universities. Mohammed El-Sayed, a professor of public relations at Cairo University’s Faculty of Mass Communication, wants to see strict rules put in place to protect the reputation of education in Egypt. “The decision raises concerns about the readiness of these universities to start higher studies programs, especially since most of their teaching staff is from public universities,” he said.
El-Sayed hopes that universities at first will be allowed to offer master’s programs only, and if proven successful, then allowed to offer doctoral degrees. He also wants standards on faculty availability and complete financial transparency, to make sure universities aren’t setting up graduate programs just to make money.
“The returns on investment in university education exceed all expectations,” he said. “We must confront their transformation into shops that sell master’s and doctoral degrees.”
“The labor market in Egypt does not bear all of these graduates.”Ahmed Magdy
A professor of public administration at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Commerce
Negm, however, of Helwan University, believes an increase in the number of master’s and doctoral students will enrich the educational process. “The number of studies submitted by graduate students will double annually, which will help advance Egypt’s scientific research and higher education,” he said.
The Specter of Unemployment
Sayyid, the student at October 6 University, and many others believe that obtaining a master’s and a doctoral degree will give them access to job opportunities with better benefits, in addition to improving their social status. “I aspire to be appointed as a university professor later,” said Sayyid. “This is my dream since I joined the university.”
Yet employment statistics in Egypt do not augur well. Opening the door for graduate studies in private universities comes at a time when nearly half of Egypt’s unemployed hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics data. University graduates accounted for around 48.8 percent of the total unemployed in the first quarter of this year, compared to 47 percent in the previous quarter and 36.8 percent in the same quarter of the previous year, the agency reported. (See a related article, “Egypt Produces More Ph.D.’s Than It Can Hire.”)
Ahmed Magdy, a professor of public administration at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Commerce, worries that the new decision will lead to more graduates without real job opportunities.
“The labor market in Egypt does not bear all of these graduates,” he said. “We have more than half a million young people with master’s, Ph.D.’s and graduate diplomas within four years only. The unemployment rate among them is very high, especially in light of the laws that restrict the appointment of teaching staff in universities.”
Each public university college determines its teaching staff needs every three years and submits a request first to a college board, then to the Supreme Council of Universities, which approves them according to the availability of funds, Magdy said.
As for private universities, they often adopt work systems that pay wages according to teaching hours.