Interview: Mohamed El Kalla

What role can private sector investment play in meeting higher education demand in Egypt?

MOHAMED EL KALLA: There is huge demand in the education sector across the elementary, secondary, vocational and university segments that still needs to be met, which is largely driven by population growth and rising demand for employment. Egypt is a young country with a booming population that could be a significant asset if youth education receives the necessary support. Increasing amounts of private sector investment are certainly required to meet current demand, as the size of private sector investment within the local education sector remains quite small compared to international levels.

Egyptians are also feeling economic pressure due to the current economic reform programme. In order to fill the gap in educational supply, the private sector needs to offer a quality-based, affordable model which caters to the increasing number of young people who are looking for quality alternatives to foreign universities and to the growing number of Egyptians seeking to enter universities each year.

While recent regulatory changes allowing foreign satellite campuses to operate are beneficial, the main demand at the university level still comes from the middle class, which is not catered to by these higher-cost and relatively small foreign university satellite campuses. Instead, there should be high-quality, private university alternatives at a price which is competitive in the current economic environment.

How can private sector education continue to be developed over the long term?

EL KALLA: Traditionally in Egypt, private sector education has been the responsibility of family businesses. Taking on private equity can be a helpful step in the transition to corporate governance by bringing in outside investors and opening the books. Nevertheless, better regulation and stronger governance requirements would boost the long-term viability of institutions and will develop a more sophisticated private education environment. This is necessary to attract investment, which will improve educational offerings over time. If private institutions are able to offer a cost-efficient and quality education, this will reduce the burden on the government, and enable public resources to have a greater impact.

Which challenges need to be addressed to ensure that educational institutions are preparing their students to enter the job market?

EL KALLA: Human development is one of the key areas that the government is emphasising in its 2030 goals. One of the challenges in education is to produce students that not only have degrees, but who also have the skillset and experience to meet the requirements of the workforce. Egypt has a huge workforce, which is a competitive advantage for employers across sectors, but this is only the case if that workforce has the skills that employers need. This can be achieved through programmes that give work experience to students, as well as through broader engagement between educational institutions and employers, especially at the secondary and university levels, as technology changes the workplace at an increasingly fast pace.

It takes a generation to see the impact of changes in policy, but the pace of change in terms of skills needed by employers is happening much faster than that. In addition to changing traditional education to create people who are adaptable, there will also be significant demand for education and skills training during employment, especially as jobs become obsolete and are replaced by positions which did not previously exist. A strong education infrastructure that takes advantage of private sector investment to meet these changing needs will be a significant contributor to Egypt’s future economic success.