A recent opinion piece in the eLearning Africa Report 2014 took aim at Egyptian higher education, claiming that the system has been ‘unable to reform itself’ to meet certain student expectations. However, this article painted just one picture; another, one which shows attempts to create a solid higher education structure, together with effective policies and programmes – especially in regard to ICT – is yet to be told.
Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) has provided information in reply to the Report’s opinion piece. ITIDA describes a history of capacity building in the ICT sector, which has been supporting students and aiding sustainable development.
ITIDA says that through the establishment of numerous educational initiatives and programmes, which provide the necessary skill-sets, whether technical or managerial, to undergraduates and entry-level employees, amongst others, Egypt has been able to provide pathways for students whilst climbing to high ranks amongst its neighbouring countries to become a leader in the ICT market.
Tracking higher education progress
After the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, new social reforms paved the way for higher education to take shape and, from 1957, those changes started to become evident. The state adopted the ‘Democracy of Education’, thus providing people from all walks of life with the opportunity to become educated and, by the beginning of the 1960s, the policy of higher education expansion had led to numerous university branches opening across the country – branches which were later transformed into independent universities.
In 1991 education reform was again at the top of the agenda as Egypt’s ‘giant national project’. As outlined in the 1992 document ‘Mubarak and Education: a View for the Future’, the decade of the nineties was considered the national decade for the eradication of illiteracy with the overall aim to reform education drastically. The share of the Government budget revealed furthermore the high priority placed on education. Public education expenditures increased by 80% in real terms during 1990 to 2000, while other public sector expenditures were reduced due to a sharp fiscal contraction.
During this time, in 1993, when the ‘knowledge society’ was emerging as an important factor for future planning, the Information Technology Institute (ITI) was established. Initially set up to provide specialised software development programmes to fresh graduates, the ITI has now developed to foster relationships with corporations, foundations, governmental organisations and other partners to advance education, research and innovation in areas of mutual interest and to encourage technology transfer. Over the past two decades, the ITI has played a vital role in the development of IT infrastructure in Egypt and it continues to support higher education through training programmes such as ‘The Education Development Program for Egyptian Universities’ (EDUEgypt).
Launched in 2007 by the Supreme Council of Universities in cooperation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, EDUEgypt is considered a milestone in bridging the employability gap to help Egyptian graduates leapfrog into a global workforce culture.
In addition to introducing new training techniques inside Egyptian universities, EDUEgypt has encouraged the booming new industries of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Information Technology Outsourcing (ITO) and helped bring them to the Egyptian market. Every year the outsourcing industry offers young people thousands of job opportunities, therefore contributing to the reduction of unemployment and mitigating its challenging consequences.
EDUEgypt programmes run in two threads serving the BPO and ITO industries. The BPO programme works on enhancing students’ language skills, customer service skills, cultural sensitisation and data skills. On the other hand, the ITO programme is designed for the technical faculties of Computer Science and Information Technology. The objective of the EDUEgypt ITO training programme is to introduce advanced technical training for undergraduates that will enhance their direct employability and fulfil market needs.
In regard to pre-university education, there is the public – provided by the government – and private system. Private education is offered for both Egyptian and foreign students and includes the national (Egyptian curriculum) and also international systems, such as the American, British, French and German – international certificates are awarded under these systems with accreditation from the Egyptian Government.
Egypt aims to increase access to university and higher education through its 20 public (state-funded) universities. Studies in foreign languages – English and French – have been introduced in parallel programmes in the public universities in the faculties of Commerce, Law, Economics, Political Sciences and Mass Media where around 23,000 students are enrolled.
In addition to public universities there are 14 private universities; many of which have joint programmes with different US-based and European universities, including FH KREMS University of Applied Science in Austria and the South Carolina University, amongst others. Other foreign universities, such as the American University and French University in Cairo, as well as the over 150 non-university institutions also offer international academic and research programmes for students in Egypt.
ICT in education
Most universities in Egypt, either public or private, have programmes available for distance education. In addition to this, in 2007, the Egyptian Government established a university specifically for eLearning programmes: the Egyptian e-Learning University (EELU).
The university started its educational activities in October 2009 with two programmes: Business Administration and Computer and Information Technology. Three centres were selected to start with these areas of study: Cairo, Tanta and Assiut. Then, In October 2010, the eLearning component was added as the third programme and a Graduate Diploma was made available in this discipline.
The EELU signed several cooperation agreements with Ain Shams, Tanta and Assiut Universities. In addition, it initiated partnerships with European universities in Italy and France, which resulted in the establishment of the Master of International Business Administration (MIBA) programme – affiliated with the ESLSCA Business School in Paris, France. In February 2011, the university opened its ‘Continuing Learning Center – CLC’, which offers professional training courses to a wide variety of different Egyptian society sectors.
Progress in ICT throughout other levels of education includes: merging ICT into school curriculums; activating the electronic government project and connecting around 36,926 schools to the Internet. Another 2,000 schools have been connected to ADSL and eLearning systems have been installed in approximately 7,700 preparatory schools, including around 22,000 satellite receivers to access educational TV channels.
ITIDA plans for the future
Moving forward, ITIDA believe that capacity building will continue to be the backbone of sustainable development for the ICT sector in Egypt. The IT industry employs nearly 10% more people than a year ago, and with a 12% increase in the number of ICT companies in the country in the past 12 months, the sector is a central pillar of Egypt’s economy and vital for the country’s growth.
New initiatives around this trend include ITIDA’s plan to integrate Egypt’s first locally manufactured smart tablet ‘Inar’ into the HR development programme. Inar not only represents the first phase towards the adoption of m-content into the educational curriculum, it also acts as a new channel for innovation. ITIDA will launch an app store which will host locally developed educational applications to be used on Inar – for example, the first e-language course developed through new partnerships between ITIDA and European language course market leaders.
Strengthening ICT training and adapting courses and programmes to keep up with industry developments are just some of the ways Egypt is working towards equipping students with the capabilities to compete with graduates from surrounding countries.
Through an ongoing reform process, Egypt also aims to develop its higher education system into one which is on equal footing with international service providers.