A Review of Egypt's Higher Education

March 25, 2010

April 2010 – A new report by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) urges reforms in Egypt’s higher education system to ensure responsiveness to the labor market requirements and reduce social inequalities arising from differences in educational opportunity.

The review of the Egyptian higher education system, titled “OECD/World Bank Reviews of National Policies for Education: Higher Education in Egypt”, was disseminated at an event hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education. The European Training Foundation (ETF), an agency of the European Union, has collaborated with OECD-World Bank in the joint review.

The review highlighted the following four challenges that are currently facing the higher education sector: (1) narrow access and limited opportunities for students; (2) poor quality of educational inputs and processes; (3) deficiencies and imbalances in graduate output relative to labor market requirements; and, (4) under-developed university research capability and linkages to the national innovation system.

Findings from surveys of students and graduates of Egypt’s higher education and vocational education sub-sectors indicated similar concerns about the necessary need to strengthen the links between higher education and the labor market.  

Ten Main Directions for Reform of Egypt’s Higher Education

1. Clarify the expected capabilities of graduates

Students, educational institutions and employers all need clearer signals about the purpose of higher education, the meaning of educational qualifications, and the standards of graduate achievement. New approaches to teaching and learning are required to develop employability skills. It is necessary to develop qualifications descriptors and pathways for individuals to build their levels of educational attainment progressively.

2. Improve the balance of graduate output to fit labor market needs

This requires: (1) a more balanced supply of graduates of university and technical and vocational education with a view to increasing the proportion of graduates with practical skills relevant to labour market needs; (2) wider opportunities for students to undertake studies that can lead to employment; (3) greater discretion for institutions to offer courses in response to student demand having regard to labour market opportunities; (4) engagement with employers and professional bodies in designing and evaluating courses; (5) timely information about labour market supply and demand; and (6) professional careers advice to help students and parents make informed educational choices.

3. Strengthen national steering capacity

There is a need for greater clarity of the respective roles of different higher education institutions, and an ability to steer the development of a co-ordinated system. Steps need to be taken to achieve a more effective balance between institutional self-regulation and overall public control of the scale, structure, quality and cost of Egypt’s higher education system.

4. Diversify the supply of higher education opportunities to meet a larger student body with varying needs, aptitudes and motivations

Currently, the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system is very weak and poorly regarded by Egyptian society, and is an unattractive alternative in its present form. A priority is to renew the TVET system, including enhancing the status of TVET qualifications, upgrading facilities, and marketing the value of technical skills to the community.

5. Increase institutional operating flexibility and self-management capacity

To align Egyptian universities with their international counterparts, public universities with the status of a public corporation might be governed by a Board of Trustees with authority to oversee their academic and operational affairs according to their agreed mission and subject to appropriate accountabilities.

6. Share costs more equitably

The cost burden of higher education provision falls disproportionately on the Government and general taxpayers, while those who benefit the most do not pay their fair share of the costs. Few countries have been able to expand their higher education system while at the same time raising its quality without requiring a significant contribution from students and their families.

7. Widen admission criteria to recognize diverse potential

Total reliance on the secondary school leaving examination (Thanaweya Amma) as the sole basis for admission to higher education limits opportunities for many students. Consideration might be given to expanding the criteria for student access to higher education by developing initially a test of generic reasoning and thinking skills to complement the national secondary school examinations.

8. Raise input quality and embed quality assurance as an institutional responsibility

To improve the quality of teaching and learning, the poor physical condition of the nation’s higher education institutions requires a major capital injection. Additionally, public institutions need to develop their capacity for responsible self-management, including monitoring and reviewing the quality of their programmes. Particular effort needs to be directed to the adoption of performance-based management practices, and professional development of faculty and staff.

9. Strengthen university research capacity and its links to innovation

To identify areas for future investment and inter-institutional collaboration, it would be useful to map the research strengths of public universities. Subsequently, a select number of universities, or faculties or centres within them, might be invited to apply through a competitive programme to establish graduate schools or research clusters in designated fields where Egypt seeks to build its capacity.

10. Build a number of leading exemplars

Managing the transition from old to new ways will require leadership and experimentation. Other countries have found it useful to trial innovations as demonstration projects before they are more widely adopted.