Students who survived this year's thanaweya aama
now face the ordeal of applying to universities, reports Reem Leila
Thanaweya aama (secondary school certificate) examinations dominated the early summer headlines, confirming the widely held view that educational reform and the thanaweya aama are a lost cause. The government annually vows to revamp the educational system, especially the horrifying thanaweya aama, yet the situation gets worse each year. The curriculum remains tortuous in its complexity and secondary school exams have become a recurrent nightmare for Egyptian families. This year the future of 792,859 thanaweya aama students was dependant on grades achieved in the two-year system of tests, the results of which determine which faculty they can join. A difference of just 0.1 per cent in overall marks can mean they fail to gain admittance to their preferred faculty.
The application marathon started on 19 July, when 121,066 thanaweya aama first phase graduates crammed computer labs to start the university application process via the university enrolment office official website.
The application process is divided into three phases based on the students' grades, with those achieving the highest taking precedence. Science section students who scored a minimum of 90.46 per cent and arts division students with 81.46 per cent or more are the first to apply.
Abdel-Hamid Salama, general supervisor of enrolment at the Ministry of Higher Education, says that out of the first batch of students 41,354 are from the science section and 79,712 students from the arts. The figures are down 12,659 on last year, when 51,981 science and 83,744 arts students were included in the first intake.
Opposition MP Mustafa Bakri, who has a reputation for fanning controversy, sees a conspiracy behind the reduction in numbers. "Instead of establishing new public universities the government has chosen to cull student numbers via the exams since this won't cost any extra money."
The government, according to Bakri, is sending an indirect message to parents and students, forcing them to enrol in private universities in order to reduce the pressure on the 22 government funded universities.
Parents and students are angry that this year no hard copies of the university enrolment office's booklet listing universities and their entry requirements are available. Minister of Higher Education Hani Hilal has announced that this year the booklet will only be available online, via the official website of the enrolment office.
A large number of supervisors are present in the enrolment offices to help students and reply to their enquiries about how to fill the application forms. According to Salama, students can change their application throughout the time period allocated for the first stage of enrolment. "Applications will be processed on the basis of the last data saved," he says.
Students complain that the entire process is hampered by breakdowns in computer servers.
"No official from the Ministry of Higher Education had bothered to ascertain whether the process was moving two days after the beginning of the enrolment process," claims Ihsan El-Sayed, parent of a thanaweya aama student.
Problems with the server, says Salama, have been limited to just a handful of offices, a result of the huge number of visitors logging on at the same time. Even this was denied by the ministry's official spokesman, Mohamed Nasser Mohsen, who issued a press release denying any server collapse. He also said a total of 80,000 students had successfully submitted applications.
Omar Sherif, head of the People's Assembly Education Committee, points out that students had long needed to score over 97 per cent, and sometimes 100 per cent, in order to guarantee a place at the faculty of their choice. "For the first time in 15 years university admission benchmarks have fallen, enabling more students to join the university."
There are at least six computer labs available at every university for students to fill in their applications, containing more than 4,000 terminals in total. In each of the three phases students are allocated seven days to complete their applications with two or three extra days for amendments. The first round ends tomorrow and results are expected to be available next week.
Results in this year's thanaweya aama have been lower than in recent years, though pupils scoring less than 98 per cent overall are still likely to face problems joining the most coveted faculties, which include medicine, pharmacology, political science, economics and mass communication. This year's cutoff point for university entrance is expected to be around 69 per cent, below which students will have to apply to less prestigious institutions. Out of this year's examinees 13 students scored 100 per cent as opposed to 1,661 pupils last year.
A failing education system is the root of all Egypt's problems, bemoans Bakri, who believes that rather than aping the systems in place in developed countries Egypt should tailor education to its specific needs.
Students with the required means can, of course, escape the whole dilemma by applying to private universities, where fees begin at LE20,000 a year. Yet students seeking to enrol in science subjects at private institutions will need an overall score of at least 90 per cent, those seeking places on humanities courses 65 per cent or more.
The Ministry of Higher Education has set up a hotline, 19468, for students and parents seeking information regarding the application process.
"The problem is that there is absolutely no communication between the ministry and the public. The hotline was supposed to help but it has been disappointing so far," says Sherif.