Strong upward demographic pressure and a high number of new entrants to Egypt’s education system have generated growing demand for facilities. However, strain on the public system has led to challenges in producing internationally competitive graduates. In an effort to improve the quality of its human capital, the government has begun to overhaul the pre-university education system and has opened the higher education segment to international universities.
Structure & Oversight
With over 21m students and more than 60,000 schools, Egypt has the most extensive education system in the MENA region. The system is divided into pre-university and higher education, which are overseen by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), respectively. Pre-university is separated into kindergarten, primary school and secondary school, which students can attend for free in the country’s 56,000 public schools, as reported by the MoE in 2018.
Private schools make up 1% of all schools, with approximately 2m students enrolled in 2015/16. In addition, more than 9000 religious schools, also overseen by the MoE, run in parallel to the public school system, and offer both secular and religious education.
Higher education is provided by university and non-university institutions, such as technical colleges, and there are both public and private offerings in the market. Undergraduate education is offered for free at public universities. University students are, however, required to pay small registration fees in addition to costs for textbooks and reference works.
The constitution grants free access to public pre-university and undergraduate education, and mandates public spending of at least 4% of GDP on the sector. Despite this, schools remain under pressure to operate with increasing efficiency given that some 600,000 students enter the system each year.
Of the overall budget of LE1.4trn ($78.7bn) for FY 2018/19, pre-university education received LE108bn ($6.1bn), while LE51bn ($2.9bn) was allocated to higher education. Although the overall budget in FY 2018/19 saw an increase of LE200bn ($11.2bn) on the previous year, recent trends show a decline in education spending as a percentage of GDP. Education and research expenditure fell from 3.6% of GDP in FY 2015/16 to 3.1% in FY 2016/17 and 2.6% in FY 2017/18.
Budget constraints have proved challenging for the public education system, which has fallen short in providing well-trained teachers. The system has been strained by challenges in student and curriculum quality based on antiquated curriculum design. The World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18” placed Egypt 133rd out of 137 countries based on the quality of primary education.
In an effort to tackle the long-standing problems in public schools, the MoE began implementing the Supporting Egypt Education Reform project in the second half of 2018. Speaking to OBG, Hend Gelala, head of planning at the MoE, explained, “Part of the government’s strategy is to build up its citizens’ competency. Education is an important part of this, and we want to ensure that students graduate with life skills, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, in line with the UN’s Education 2030 Framework for Action towards lifelong learning based on a core set of competencies.”
While the MoE had previously introduced education reforms, they were met with limited success. The current initiatives are, however, far more comprehensive, and seek to establish a unified and coordinated system involving all education ministries.
The cost of implementing the extensive reform project is estimated at $2bn, which will be financed in part by a $500m loan from the World Bank issued in July 2018. The reforms seek to train 500,000 teachers, expand access to kindergarten for 500,000 children and deliver 1.5m digital learning resources. The remaining $1.5bn is expected to be funded by the government.
Reforms to the education system were rolled out in all public schools in September 2018. To be implemented in phases, kindergarten and firstyear primary school children were the first to start the new academic year under the revised curriculum, while examination reforms were introduced at the secondary level. Following the introduction of the new curriculum in the first grade, it will be rolled out to second-year primary students in 2019 and to the next grade the following year, and so forth.
The new curriculum, modelled on the Japanese Tokkatsu education system, encourages soft skills such as character building and tolerance, while developing a sense of community and responsibility. Critical-thinking skills are stimulated through unified content that utilises a cross-disciplinary theme to teach subjects such as mathematics, science, social sciences and language. Through this new system, the MoE expects public schools to develop well-rounded students with deeper levels of understanding. Students in kindergarten and primary school are expected to learn Arabic, English and an optional third language.
When they reach the secondary phase, students can choose between a wide range of subjects aimed at preparing them for the modern world, such as technology, robotics, science and computing applications. Additionally, children in kindergarten up to the third grade will not be required to undergo examinations. Instead, applied tests will measure their understanding rather than knowledge conservation and dictation.
The manner of assessment for secondary school students has also changed as standardised written examinations have been replaced by digital tests completed on a tablet. Each student receives different questions based on a cumulative grading system that assesses three years of schooling. Examinations are structured towards reinforcing critical thinking and research skills in an effort to better prepare students for higher education and the labour market.
To support the digitised examination format and new curriculum, the MoE plans to distribute 1.5m tablet devices to students and teachers at a total cost of LE2.4m ($134,900), which will be funded by the World Bank loan. The tablets will be given to students free of charge, and the government intends to provide additional tablets to new students each year. Future costs associated with the devices are expected to be included in the fiscal budget.
In addition to the digital devices, at least 2530 secondary schools were connected to a fibre-optic network in mid-December 2018, providing classrooms with high-speed internet access.
To improve their skills and ensure that they are equipped for the new curriculum, teachers are inducted into several professional development programmes that guide them on how to deliver the new curriculum and implement the new assessment methodology. In addition, the Teachers First programme seeks to introduce new approaches and develop skills such as positive reinforcement, teamwork and working with children. More than 30,000 teachers underwent training through the programme before the start of the new school year in September 2018. As part of its reform project, the MoE aims to have 500,000 teachers participate in the Teachers First programme.
In October 2018 the UK announced that it would provide Egypt with a £12m grant through UNICEF. The fund will be directed toward teacher training and children’s education as part of the broader education reforms. An official ceremony in early February 2019 marked the inauguration of the three-year project, entitled Integrated Education Services for Vulnerable and Marginalised Children in Egypt.
In the future, the MoE aims to monitor teacher behaviour through weekly meetings. Teacher-training departments and bodies will be supervised by the office of the Deputy Minister of Education for Teachers Affairs, which will also integrate a complaints and inquiries system into the ministry’s website.
A fundamental challenge necessitating a change to the public school curriculum and method of assessment was that students were ill-prepared for higher education. Mohamed El Maghraby, a member of the strategic planning unit at the MoHE, told OBG, “Under the outgoing system, pre-university students were trained to memorise facts and knowledge, which led them to rely on rote memorisation. They were taught to rely on information that they would receive without any need to search for it themselves. As a result, the students lack the research skills needed in higher education.”
While the new education system promises to improve the quality of graduates, some industry experts have argued that the focus must be shifted from education inputs, such as devices and teaching staff, to outputs in the form of competitively educated graduates in order for the new system to deliver on its objectives.
With 40% of the population consisting of people aged between 18 to 22, and this cohort set to rise further, the MoHE has identified three pillars upon which to revise policy, expand offerings and meet demand for higher education: establishing new institutions or expanding universities to increase capacity, encouraging e-education and e-learning to diversify the options available in the market, and stimulating private sector investment in education.
Some 23 universities and approximately 158 non-university institutions operate in the country. Of these higher education institutions, 23% are private. In addition, 19% students are enrolled in new modes of public higher education, including fee-paying open education and e-learning, which allow public universities to compete with their private counterparts.
Enrolment peaked in 2017, with 2.7m students registered in higher education institutions, complemented by 122,577 teaching staff. Approximately 22.2% of students were enrolled in private institutions.
Foreign University Branches
In July 2018 the Parliament approved a law permitting the establishment of branches of foreign universities in the country. Under this legislation, Egyptian students must constitute at least half of the total number of students enrolled, and scholarship grants must be allocated. Upon graduation, the student will receive a degree from the foreign university, which is accredited in both Egypt and the branch’s home country.
To ensure the quality of the degree, the foreign university must replicate the curriculum applied at its home campus and set admission criteria for students. Branches are subject to the same accreditation criteria as Egyptian universities and are required to propose a five-year plan to the MoHE before receiving approval. Fees must be offered in Egyptian pounds to Egyptian students, while the university covers the costs of operating and equipping the branch.
The average annual cost of private university education ranges between LE17,909 ($1010) and LE71,636 ($4030), which stands in contrast to the $50 in fees payable at their public counterparts. The introduction of foreign universities is expected to increase competition in the market, leading to reductions in costs and improvements in the quality of education.
Ghada Barsoum, professor at the American University in Cairo, expressed her support for the system. “Education is constantly evolving, and educational reform is always necessary in response,” she told OBG. “There has always been a sense in Egypt that we are not happy with the educational system, particularly around access and quality. The new reforms can resolve these concerns by providing more options for students as well as improving the quality of education.”
Cairo University is the only public Egyptian university ranked within the top 500 in the world, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities published by consultancy firm ShanghaiRanking in 2018. Times Higher Education painted a less optimistic picture for Egyptian public universities in 2019, with Cairo University ranking eighth behind the private American University in Cairo when assessed by research output. All Egyptian universities were positioned below the top 600 in the world. The addition of new subjects and faculties in the market is expected to boost the quality of Egyptian universities, which should attract more international professors and experts to the country.
However, the introduction of foreign university branches may bring about challenges similar to those faced by the reformed pre-university system. A focus on facilities and other inputs – driven by stakeholder profitability objectives – may not align with the core values of a university, which include delivering exceptional research output and well-trained graduates.
While additional regulations are in the pipeline, according to El Maghraby, negotiations for the establishment of foreign university branches are undertaken on an individual basis through bilateral talks between the respective governments. Each university is required to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the MoHE, which includes a clear outline of its obligations and terms of operation.
The first international campus of the University of Canada was inaugurated in July 2018 in eastern Cairo and commenced its academic year the following September, with tuition fees starting at LE232,843 ($13,100). Six additional international universities are expected to be constructed by 2020.
Growing demand from the private sector for technicians has been driven by relatively lower wages payable when compared to university graduates, coupled with a burgeoning need for intermediate qualifications. As a result, in June 2018 the MoE signed cooperation protocols with the private sector to enhance vocational training under the Egypt Makers initiative. The initiative aims to improve the quality of technical education by raising students’ production skills and preparing graduates for the labour market. Partners in the initiative will provide job opportunities to graduates in an effort to reduce unemployment levels.
An estimated 55% of students were reported to be enrolled in technical and vocational training schools in the 2015/16 academic year, with similar numbers confirmed by the MoHE for 2018.
While public education remains free, the depreciation of the Egyptian pound caused a spike in private school fees, particularly in international schools where fees are pegged to foreign currencies. In response, the MoE imposed a ceiling on fee increases in 2017, capping the maximum increase at 14% for 2017/18 and 7% for each year thereafter. A more equitable approach was taken regarding Arabic private schools and cooperative schools, with fee increases ranging from 7% to 11%.
Buoyed by growing demand for education and increased government spending, GEMS Education, the UAE’s largest private school provider, has expanded into Egypt’s education sector. In May 2018 the company entered into an agreement with Talaat Moustafa Group, a local construction company, investing LE1bn ($56.2m) to acquire a portfolio of schools. Egypt’s largest investment bank, EFG Hermes, will finance the project, which aims to build new capacity and improve the quality and offering of education through an initial focus on the acquisition of schools within Cairo and Alexandria.
With population growth recorded at a rate of 2.6% per annum between 2006 and 2018, in July 2018 the Ministry of Endowments reported that an additional 2500 schools must be constructed each year to absorb new entrants to the schooling system. The new school curriculum also requires that further educational facilities be constructed and existing facilities be updated based on improved design specifications under the Tokkatsu education system.
The MoE intends to construct 200,000 classrooms between 2018 and 2022 at an estimated cost of LE100bn ($5.6bn), 40% of which will be developed by way of public-private partnerships. The General Authority for Educational Buildings began developing the required facilities in 2017, and 20,500 classrooms have been completed at a cost of LE7bn ($393.4m). The development project included the construction of 5629 new classrooms, the renovation of an additional 8021 and the expansion of 6880 existing schools.
Foreign Direct Investment
Improvements in the sector have been supported by foreign direct investment, with the EU funding €60m for several projects aimed at enhancing access to pre-university education and preventing child labour through improved socio-economic conditions. The five-year programme, implemented by the World Food Programme, will run until July 2019. At least one of the projects under the programme is directed towards supporting improvements in the education system, while another focuses on improving learning outcomes for children between the ages of four and six by facilitating access to quality community-based education. The latter project will set up 1200 community schools in disadvantage governorates with a budget of €30m. The project targets 30,000 unenrolled and vulnerable children, and will equip 200 public schools with facilities that enable the inclusion of 6000 children with disabilities.
Further grant funding of €50m was provided by the EU to the Ministry of Trade and Industry in support of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) under the TVET II programme. The programme, which will run between 2014 and 2021, offers support to the TVET system and is aligned with the government’s 2018 reform strategy for the sector.
Egypt’s public education system will be undergoing dramatic reforms over the next 12 years as the first group of students graduate to higher education or join the workforce. These reforms are expected to lead to broader economic growth as productivity increases and the wealth of knowledge in the economy rises. Opening up the higher education segment to international universities provides further opportunities for school graduates while introducing competitive skills to the broader market. While there is reason to be optimistic, it may be too soon to tell whether the reforms will bring about the desired results. Additional funding and private sector support are required to assist the Egyptian government in achieving its targets.
You have reached the limit of premium articles you can view for free.
Choose from the options below to purchase print or digital editions of our Reports. You can also purchase a website subscription giving you unlimited access to all of our Reports online for 12 months.
If you have already purchased this Report or have a website subscription, please login to continue.