Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Moving backwards?

New criteria has been set regulating the appointment of key university posts, stirring controversy around the independence of Egyptian academia, Reem Leila reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Supreme Universities Council (SUC) agreed 3 July on regulations governing the formation of committees that will select professors to occupy the posts of university presidents and faculty deans. From three nominees selected by the committees for the chair of either university president or faculty dean, the head of state is to choose one. Since the 2011 Revolution, Egyptian universities adopted the system of electing presidents and deans. That system came to an end three weeks ago when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a presidential decree stipulating that university presidents and deans would now be appointed.

The committee concerned with university president positions will be composed of seven members appointed by the SUC, amongst who must be the longest standing university presidents. This is in addition to two spare members, appointed by the SUC. The committee concerned with appointing faculty deans will be composed of five members, three of whom are to be appointed by the university president, with the stipulation that the university vice president should be among them. The remaining two members will be appointed by the faculty’s council. A spare member will appointed by the university president.

According to both committees’ regulations, nominees for the posts of university president or faculty deans have to have held the rank of professor for at least five years and should not be subject to any court ruling, or to have been jailed for a disgraceful crime. University presidents and faculty deans are to be appointed for two terms, each of which will last for three years. Nominees should not have been in the same post for two terms.

Committee regulations also stipulate that nominees should not be members in any political party during the nomination period and throughout the two terms of appointment. The committees are to announce vacancies in the posts at least two months prior to the end of the term of the incumbent. They should accept nominations for at least one week.

Nominees for either university president or faculty dean must have a vision on developing the university or faculty, as well as improving its performance, in addition to the ability to communicate well with university staff.

The new system of appointing university presidents and faculty deans has stirred anger among some university staff members. At least 110 members of the 9 March Movement who are university professors issued a statement asking President Al-Sisi to annul the presidential decree. According to the statement, the decree is unconstitutional. Accordingly, the committees formed to appoint university presidents and deans are unconstitutional as well.

Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, a university professor and member of 9 March Movement, says the presidential decree — as well as the committees to be formed according to this decree — violates Article 21 of the constitution, which underlines the importance of the independence of universities and stipulates the non-interference of the executive authority in choosing university leaders.

“The president has annulled one of the very few gains of January Revolution. We all, as university staff members, feel sorry for this severe violation of the constitution, which will impede university independence in the near future,” said Abdel-Gelil.

Abdel-Gelil believes, “The new system will create a certain cadre who will be loyal to the regime and the people who appointed him, but not to the university and its community. Returning to the old regime, university presidents and deans will be appointed according to State Security reports and recommendations, which will be based on the person’s loyalty to the regime, not his experience.”

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, who is also a university professor and a leading member of the 9 March Movement, agrees with Abdel-Gelil and adds that academics believe that appointing university leaders will impede the university’s role in serving society. Abul-Ghar quoted a survey conducted last year by the World Bank and Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD), stating that, “Egypt’s higher education system is not properly serving the country’s requirements, and without overall reform there will be no economic and social progress.”

Abul-Ghar said that both reports recommend Egypt’s public universities undergo structural reform in order to better serve society.

“Are we moving backwards instead of forwards? I can’t understand why the political leadership has taken such an uncalculated step,” argued Abul-Ghar.

Meanwhile, others believe the change is positive. Ahmed Zayed, professor of sociology at Cairo University, said: “Some might claim that the newly formed committees will be biased to certain professors … but this is not true. The criteria for choosing members of these committees are professional and objective. The selection criteria are general and should be present in any respectable university staff member. Accordingly, their selection of key university figures will be objective.”

Zayed stated that most countries appoint key posts in large institutions, including universities. “Developed countries are following the system that better serves the country’s welfare. So we should do the same, and follow their steps, if we want our country to develop and improve,” added Zayed.

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