Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

No-zone universities

Reem Leila reports on the controversial decision to exempt students of high-ranking government employees from zoning regulations when entering university

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 7 March, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb directed Minister of Higher Education Al-Sayed Ahmed Abdel-Khaleq to annul a move taken by the Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) which exempts children of judges, police and officers from university geographical zoning admission restrictions.

Mehleb said there would be no exceptions in geographical zoning of students who want to join any of the country’s public universities.

At the beginning of this month SCU decided to exempt children of judges, police and officers from university zoning admission restrictions, which could hinder student graduates of thanaweya amma (12th grade high school) from joining the university they want. Based on the decision, the children will be able to join any university they want without abiding by regulations of geographical distribution. The decision was made due to “national security” issues.

Abdel-Khaleq, who is also head of SCU, said the decision was made because parents who work in sensitive jobs needed to focus on their work without adding the extra emotional burden of worrying about their children. “The decision is not discriminatory. What we, government officials, worry about is the country’s national welfare,” Abdel-Khaleq said.

The decision has caused controversy among students, university professors and the public as well as activists. Dahlia Hegazi, professor at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, said the decision was not new as has been reported. “It has been around for many years. It is not a newly issued decree. I agree it is discriminatory but no one can do anything about it,” Hegazi said.

Hegazi added the decision was unconstitutional because it discriminates between citizens. She said that according to the constitution, all citizens are equal before the law without any differentiation based on sex, colour, race or religion. “Article 9 of the constitution stipulates that the state shall ensure equal opportunity for all citizens without any discrimination,” said Hegazi.

She believes that zoning admissions were done secretly for certain categories of students within the five per cent limit of their number, especially in faculties which have no equivalent at the local student area. “It is unconstitutional but nothing has changed.

This was the case many years ago and nobody objected. Why are people creating a fuss now?” Hegazi asked. “It’s the same old corruption; nothing new.”

Gihan Mahmoud, professor at Cairo University, described SCU decision as “meaningless”. “Why are there two categories of admission regulations — one for ordinary students and another for extraordinary students? This is unfair. What Mehleb did was the right thing. Such an uncalculated decision had already caused great controversy among university professors,” Mahmoud said.

Mehleb’s decision came just a few hours before an official letter to the minister of higher education was sent by many university professors condemning the decision. “Egypt’s universities are an important element in achieving comprehensive democracy and social justice. This will not be accomplished while government officials are issuing uncalculated decisions,” added Mahmoud.

The SCU decision was meant to block students from other governorates to join certain faculties in Cairo, particularly the Faculty of Mass Communication and Economics and Political Science. Farag Al-Kamel, professor at Cairo University, said that in the past, students of all governorates were allowed to join any faculty of any university “as long as they had no equivalent in their vicinity”. According to Al-Kamel, because several public universities were founded in the country’s governorates, “there was no dire need for a student from Assiut to join a university in Cairo, for example, and the several universities serving Upper Egypt”.

A few years ago, equivalent faculties for Mass Communication and that of Economics and Political Science were inaugurated at other universities. “The decision allowing students from different governorates to join those two faculties was annulled, especially after their equivalent was created,” Al-Kamel said.

Al-Kamel added that transferring from one university to another was annulled a long time ago. “Whoever wants to join another university different from the one allocated to him in his vicinity has to spend an entire year in it before transferring”.

Each year, universities open their doors to 10 per cent of students who wish to transfer. “Every year, university administrations examine each case individually. They agree on some cases and reject others. Most cases that are accepted concern students with serious health issues which prevents them from joining a certain university,” Al-Kamel said.

“Many thanaweya amma students suffer from the zoning issue of the university they are in. They submit a petition to both universities: the one they are studying in and the one they want to join. If the two universities agree, then a student can transfer easily. Other than that, he won’t be able to make the change,” explained Al-Kamel.

The system has not changed, Al-Kamel said. “It was applied throughout the last several years without protest. There have always been exceptions to 10 per cent of the students. “These exceptions are known, legal and are done every year. Why is this creating a problem now?”

SCU has always asked the minister of higher education to agree or disagree on university zoning admission cases if their percentage exceeded 10 per cent. “Each year, university administrations have done this and it was accepted by everyone, so where is the problem now?” Al-Kamel asked. “I truly can’t figure it out.”

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