Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Education is the solution

A private-sector scholarship programme, eight years old this year, is helping young people finance their education and develop Egypt, reports Mai Samih

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the education state in Egypt is deteriorating, other efforts are being made to guarantee some progress in that field, especially regarding post-graduate studies. Ambassador Hussein Al-Khazindar, chairman of the Qalaa Holdings Scholarship Foundation, gives an introduction to the Foundation’s scholarship programme, which helps young people finance their education abroad and develop Egypt.

“The Qalaa Scholarship Foundation sets an example to other scholarship-granting foundations in the sense that it goes beyond short-term investment to long-term investment in excellent young people who have graduated and want to complete post-graduate studies. It was established in 2007 through the strong will of the founders to contribute to the development of Egypt through highly competitive professionals,” he says.

“The Foundation is funded by an endowment from the Qalaa Holdings Company to grant scholarships to promising young men and women who want to study for PhD and MA degrees in all fields. Sometimes the founders also make extra donations,” Al-Khazindar adds.

 “We started granting our scholarships in 2007, and since then we have supported 122 students from different governorates in Egypt, including Cairo, Port Said and Ismailia.” Other students have come from Alexandria, Monofeya, Dakahleya, Qalubeya, Fayoum, Assuit, Menya and Aswan.

“Every year some 400 students apply for scholarships, but we can only choose around 15 of them. We examine their files, interview the applicants and then shortlist those we want to look at further.”

“Finally, we decide who will be awarded the scholarships. We have students studying in many fields at the moment, including engineering, medicine, human rights and law.”

Other fields have included management, filmmaking, development, economics, art, design and technology, environmental studies and education, among others.

Applicants choose the field they want to study and must then gain acceptance from a top university anywhere in the world, including Harvard, Stanford and Columbia in the US; Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics in the UK; ESCADE in Spain; Helsinki University in Finland: Lund University in Sweden: and Heidelberg University in Germany. The grants also come with conditions.

“There are many conditions that must be fulfilled in order to be awarded a grant, including that the student must be an Egyptian and a resident of Egypt, under 35 years of age, have experience of two years of work, be planning to pursue studies in a top university and be accepted unconditionally. A student must have genuine financial need and must be committed to returning to Egypt to work for at least two years.”

Hesham Wahby, who has a MBA degree thanks to the programme and has now started his own business, explains his experience of the Foundation. “I was applying for an MBA when a number of universities organised sessions looking at funding issues. I heard about the Qalaa Scholarships during a presentation about the programme and decided to apply.”

“I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship, and this paid my tuition fees and living expenses at the University of Pennsylvania’s Business School of Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management in the US.”

“After that, I worked part time with a consulting company, and then I established a company with four of my colleagues as there was a condition that we should return to Egypt to benefit the country. This is something I believe in, so I returned.”

 “Now I work in the field of venture capital, which helps young people start businesses and find the capital to do so. We also organise workshops and invest in a number of start-up groups.”

Joyce Rafla, 28, a pedagogy and assessment officer at the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and a member of Egypt’s Specialised Council for Education and Scientific Research affiliated to the presidency, gives an account of her experience.

 “I knew about the Qalaa Scholarships from the Website of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which includes a list of scholarships Egyptian citizens can apply for. After I was awarded the scholarship, Qalaa paid my tuition fees and I paid my living expenses and health insurance.”

“I was determined to do my best and study hard to get the highest grades as someone was helping me along with my family and I didn’t want to let them down. My Masters degree is in education, and I now work with colleagues to organise workshops designed to help teach teachers how to teach.”

“We do the background research and work on designing the courses. I teach on the AUC professional education diploma and used to work as a consultant for USAID. At that time, I used to travel to Upper Egypt a lot, where I was responsible for evaluating the impacts of projects on teachers and students there.”

The scholarships are divided into full and partial ones, Al-Khazindar notes. “We have two types of scholarships, the first in which we pay both the tuition fees and living expenses of a student, which can be over $50,000 per student, and the second in which we pay only the tuition fees and the student pays his living expenses.”

The Foundation also monitors its students during their studies. “We are committed to fulfilling the dreams of the younger generations, and we are looking forward to seeing what they will do in the future in terms of developing Egypt.”

 “We also work with the embassies of the countries they are studying in and help facilitate their visas, and we contact the relevant universities to give us a briefing about their progress. Some institutions like the British Council refer students to us to obtain their degrees,”Al-Khazindar says.

 “After the students return to Egypt they usually opt to search for jobs themselves. For example, after the scholarships they may return to their original universities and give their experience to students if they teach there. Others get more senior positions and have often been very successful.”

Chairman and founder of Qalaa Holdings Ahmed Heikal stresses the vital role of the private sector in developing education and effective citizens in Egypt. “Egypt’s ability to create a new generation of young leaders is dependent upon how well we can educate our youth.”

 “We believe that education is a key component of our ongoing reform process as a country. At Qalaa Holdings, we have continued to deliver on our commitment to education and human capital development through various initiatives in Egypt and across the region.”

 “Even on the level of our subsidiary companies, community development projects have focused on education on all levels, including technical and vocational training as well as higher education,” he says.

Co-founder and Managing Director Hisham Al-Khazindar agrees. “The Qalaa Holdings Scholarship Foundation is an extension of our belief that the private sector must help lead positive change.”

“By investing in the graduate education of 122‎ of Egypt’s brightest young scholars over the past seven years, including this year’s class of around 15 scholars who represent over 12 governorates across Egypt, we are investing in the future development of the country as these young men and women are required to return to Egypt upon the completion of their various Masters and PhD programmes.”

Wahby has ideas about how to maximise the benefits of the scholarships. “Some people do not abide by the rule that says they should return to Egypt to benefit the country with their knowledge after the end of their studies.”

“I believe that there should be a way in which they can gain practical knowledge by allowing them to work in a certain field after they finish their studies in the same country, so they can then benefit the country with their practical experience as well. This would mean returning within three years instead of the present two,” he says.

“I left Egypt before the 25 January Revolution and came back in August 2013 after the 30 June Revolution. What was missing was a counselling department for students who are abroad, away from their country and their families, and sometimes in need of support. The Qalaa Foundation should connect with employers, which could help students abide by their terms. After I finished my MA I was without employment for six months, and then I worked as a freelancer, for example. I owe Qalaa an enormous amount, but I found my own employment,” Rafla says.

“Every year, after they finish, we organise a party or reception for the students and ask them to give their experience to new students about the programme. We stay in contact with them, and if they need any help after obtaining their degrees we are ready to help them if we can,” Al-Khazindar says.

This year, a reception was held on  the 9th of  June to introduce new students to the programme and announce the names of those who had been awarded scholarships this year. The event also marked the eighth anniversary of the Qalaa Scholarship programme.

“The Qalaa Scholarship Foundation is committed to continuing to support the new generation of students fulfil their dreams. We believe that education is the main pillar of progress in our country.” comments Al-Khazindar.

“This is why we help young people get the best education they can to be future leaders. We look forward to seeing what impact they will have on the future development of Egypt,” Al-Khazindar says.

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