Interview: Ismail Abdel Ghafar Ismail Farag
What can be done to address the challenges young graduates face in gaining employment?
ISMAIL ABDEL GHAFAR ISMAIL FARAG: Employment should be one of the highest priorities for any educational institution and is very important to us. If you look at our academy, the name of the college of business is the College of Business Administration and Technology, for example, while the engineering school is Engineering and Technology, and maritime is Maritime Transport and Technology. In fact, all of the names of our colleges are in some way related to technology, for the simple reason that technology is the key to building a productive modern society.
If we want to solve Egypt’s employment problem, we of course need to create new job opportunities, but we must also ensure that graduates are qualified, capable, experienced and have the necessary hands-on skills that today’s jobs require. In general, schools and universities have not been very successful in this respect, which is why we have seen different programmes developed in Egypt over the past few years aimed at equipping graduates with specific skill-sets tailored to the job market. Students should graduate with a range of skills before they enter into employment.
How can universities improve the quality of education provided to students?
FARAG: Universities need to focus more on quality than on quantity. There has been a tendency by universities, especially private ones that rely on tuition-based funding, to take on many more students than their capacity allows. In order to provide high-quality education, you cannot be overcrowded. As an example, when I joined the academy we were accepting around 1000 students in the maritime college for training facilities that could handle 160 per year. We have greatly reduced the number of pupils that we take on each year in order to improve the overall quality of education that we can provide. A few other universities are also taking this step, which is a very positive sign.
We also need to focus on improving the quality of our instructors by providing them with the means to complete their advanced degrees, either locally or abroad. In 2014 we sent more than 100 faculty members abroad to pursue their doctorates, fully supported by the academy. Other universities are doing the same. While such initiatives have a high cost, investing in quality pays off in the long run.
It is also important that students be given the opportunity to study and live abroad. The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and educational institutions must follow suit if they wish to produce competitive graduates.
Finally, universities must work to establish internship opportunities for their students with leading companies so that students can attain valuable experience before they graduate. Part of the reason that we decided to build an additional campus in Smart Village was to be closer to all of the leading companies based there and to make exchanges easier. In general, the private sector and educational institutions need more open dialogue.
To what extent have universities begun to expand to areas outside of major urban centres?
FARAG: There is still much work to be done in this regard. It is imperative that universities establish facilities outside of the two main cities of Cairo and Alexandria in order to bring quality educational opportunities to more Egyptians, especially those in less-developed areas such as Upper Egypt. Of course, doing so is challenging, but it is also key for the country’s social development. For instance, our campus in Aswan is costly and difficult to operate, but we do so even though we can only charge students 50% of the tuition that we charge in Cairo.
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