Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
25 Nov. - 1 Dec. 1999
Issue No. 457
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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A row over numbers

Shaden Shehab

Pharmacists' Syndicate Chairman Zakariya Gad recently notified Minister of Higher Education Moufid Shehab that the Sixth of October University accepted 700 new students this academic year in the faculty of pharmacology and 850 in the faculty of dentistry -- numbers beyond its capacity. These figures were disputed during a meeting last week of the Private Universities Committee, which is responsible for monitoring the activities of such institutions. Shehab raised the issue. He was told by Sixth of October University President Mahmoud Mahfouz that there were only 600 students enrolled in its faculty of pharmacology and 500 in dentistry. The faculties of dentistry in all public universities admitted 896 students this year.

But numbers as such are not the issue. The crux of the problem, according to repeated statements by Shehab, is whether the university is able to cope with the influx.

Shehab ordered the formation of a three-man committee, made up of the deans of the faculties of dentistry in the government-run universities of Cairo, Ain Shams and Alexandria, that will visit the Sixth of October University and prepare a report on its capabilities, including buildings, laboratories, equipment and teaching staff. The committee is expected to come up with its conclusions next week.

In statements to the press, Shehab said he will "take decisive action against any private university that accepts students beyond its capacity..." "The support the nation gives to such universities requires its decisive intervention to end any infraction that harms the education process and violates the private universities law for the purpose of material gain...," he added.

Gad told Al-Ahram Weekly, "It will become clear to the investigating committee that the university accepted more students than it can handle. I visited the university and it was obvious to me that the preparations and the number of professors cannot cope with such large numbers of students."

Gad added that accepting so big a number without being able to handle all of them properly will harm the education of graduates, and consequently, the country. "Even if a large number of the students are non-Egyptian, it does not mean we should not provide them with a proper education," he said.

Gad said the syndicate "will not take action, at least not in the near future, because we have confidence in the minister's [Shehab's] judgment."

Mahfouz resented the charge of excessive enrollment. He told the Weekly, "Such accusations harm the reputation of Egyptian education. We should be encouraged, not opposed." He said the university "is equipped to handle all the enrolled students and can manage with many more".

Around 10,000 students are currently enrolled in the Sixth of October University, 70 per cent of whom are non-Egyptian Arabs, he said. "Arabs would never leave universities in their countries or abroad to enroll in our universities without being sure that they will get a proper education," Mahfouz said.

Over the past several years, Hamdi El-Sayed, chairman of the Doctors' Syndicate, has repeatedly vowed that medical graduates of private universities will not be allowed to join the union, and consequently, will not be allowed to practice medicine. He argues that the universities do not have the necessary laboratories and hospitals, and therefore, students will not receive adequate training.

El-Sayed had taken to court the Sixth of October University, it being the only private university that includes a faculty of medicine, demanding that the college be shut down. The Administrative Court ruled in his favour but the ruling was quashed by the Higher Administrative Court.

In July 1996, a presidential decree authorised the establishment of four private universities -- Misr International University, the University of Modern Sciences, Sixth of October University and the University of Science and Technology. All four have come under fire for charging high tuition fees, amounting to LE30,000 annually, thus excluding all but students from very rich families.

The Private Universities Law was then passed, providing for a representative of the Ministry of Education to be stationed in every private university to provide a periodical report on their activities. At the time, the Supreme Universities Council had announced that it would not equate private university degrees with those of government universities until the first batch of students graduated from the four universities. However, the council decided last year to start equating the degrees if the curricula and the university were up to the required standard.

In addition to the American University in Cairo (AUC), a French university and a German university are scheduled to open in 2001.

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