The Higher Education Ministry is working on reviving a proposal to form the National Egyptian Council for Evaluation and Assessment which would manage students' university admissions, said Ashraf Hatem, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Universities.
He said students require a general online evaluation and a specialized one, in addition to tests in sciences, maths and the English language prior to being admittance into universities.
This process would take three years to be carried out, he added.
Students in Egypt are dependent on high school results as the only method for university admission, a system that does not exist in any other country, Hatem said in a speech at the fourth conference for discussions on the quality of education and accreditation. He indicated the importance of depending on other fair and transparent methods.
Hatem pointed to the multiple methods of university admission in other countries, referring to the standardized SAT test in the United States, the capabilities test in Saudi Arabia and other standardized tests for students in China ahead of admission to universities.
Hatem added that a conference was held in 2008 to develop high school examination procedures (thanaweyya amma in Arabic). A law was issued then stating that a student's high school certificate should remain valid for five years; however, the law was not enforced as the executive regulations were not issued.
A new report by the Egyptian-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, “Besieged Universities”, says that Egyptian authorities took punitive action against 2,297 student activists nationwide between 2013 and 2016. The report comes at a time when the “security grip on political activity in Egypt is at its peak”.
The report documents 1181 cases of student arrests inside or in the vicinity of universities during the past three academic years in addition to 1051 disciplinary sanctions against students, where more than half of these were cases of expulsion. Furthermore, 65 cases of student referrals to military trials were reported in addition to 21 extrajudicial killings.
Since the 2013 military coup in Egypt there has been an “explicit orientation towards a restoration of the security grip on Egyptian universities” and restore it to it’s pre revolution state.
The report details the “alarming development” of attacks over recent years, which includes the extrajudicial killing of students, arrests on campus, the expulsion of students and military trials, all carried out with the intention of silencing anyone who opposes the current regime.
Attacks on higher education have continued over the last years, says the report, whilst the room for civil society to operate has shrunk. Students who work for change are often seen as a threat and are denied their fundamental right to education as a result.
Spurred on by an increase in the number of unemployed graduates resulting from the growing mismatch between university education and market needs, North Africa's universities are working on several approaches to produce industry- and market-ready graduates.
In the Arab world’s 22 states, which includes eight countries in Africa, the average youth unemployment rate is 30%. This is the highest of any region, according to an August 2016 Economist report entitled "Look Forward in Anger".
Some African countries, like Egypt, sit above the average. In 2014, 34% of university graduates were unemployed.
Only two universities in the region were included in the first QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2017, namely, Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, both at 201+.
In addition, no North African university was included in the 150 best universities for delivering work-ready graduates as indicated by the Global University Employability Ranking 2016.
Lack of jobs has in some cases become a source of social instability, prompting many demonstrations by university graduates in some North African countries, particularly Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
The most recent demonstration took place in Egypt on 27 November when postgraduate degree holders protested in front of the headquarters of the cabinet in Cairo, demanding that they be appointed to jobs in the state administration.
Initiatives to improve graduate employability have varied across the region, largely in accordance with universities’ individual capabilities and circumstances.
Links with private sector
In Tunisia, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Chiheb Bouden was quoted as saying in a report by the Oxford Business Group entitled The Report: Tunisia 2016 that a solution to employment “can only come from a joint effort by both universities and the private sector”.
The current educational system in Tunisia requires all students from universities to undergo an internship. Students also have the opportunity to do a long internship, or a contractual assignment in their final year.
"These types of initiatives are good, but not enough to adapt the educational curriculum to meet the real socio-economic needs of the job market," said Bouden.
Those internships should be overseen by a university supervisor, who in turn should be aware of the assignment and the project’s goal. Also, a framework that allows companies to easily interact with the education system should be formulated as the current framework is not particularly interesting or appealing for them, Bouden said.
In Morocco, university-based career centres have been opened which provide orientation services to students and graduates as well as work readiness training, information on high growth sectors and exposure to employers, internships and other forms of workplace learning.
In neighbouring Mauritania, more than 80% of university graduates have degrees in the humanities, creating a gap between their qualifications and the needs of an economy centred on mining, fisheries and construction, which has led to graduate unemployment problems.
Thus, Mauritania's government is planning to set up a school of mining and new fast-track technical specialties in higher education to re-direct students from literature to science and skilled trades, with the goal of having 30% of students enrolled in these subjects by 2020 – up from less than 10% in 2011.
A new kind of learner
According to experts, the demand for professional programmes emerges from a young cohort of students who are keenly aware of job market needs and the pursuit of competitiveness.
"Arab learners… are increasingly seeking educational experiences that are directly relevant to their professional interests and objectives, especially, as they relate to career success and employability," higher education expert Eman Ahmed Ghanim Abu Khousa told University World News.
Thus, Arab higher education institutions are required to focus less on the basic disciplines and offer more on professional programmes, said Abu Khousa.
Specialist in technology-enhanced learning Mohammad Khalil from Graz University of Technology in Austria told University World News that in order to produce industry- and market-ready graduates, universities needed to pursue “out of the box” solutions through the implementation of smart education. According to Khalil, e-learning systems at Arab universities were old and this minimised e-learning's vital role in enhancing graduates’ skills and capabilities.
Thus, Arab universities should adopt more modern educational approaches within their instructional system, he said.
However, it was also important to use technology effectively, as highlighted by Abu Khousa: "There is a deep disconnect between adopting new technologies and truly leveraging data to enhance quality, especially in terms of teaching and learning."
"Arab universities should start sowing seeds toward the adoption of learning analytics to deal with the challenges and problems confronting them," Mohamed Koutheair Khribi, programme specialist for educational technologies at the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization based in Tunis, told University World News.
Besides ensuring a better understanding of student profiles and needs, Arab universities should use learning analytics to improve teaching, assessment practices and educational content, Khribi said.
According to Khribi, one of the main challenges in Arab universities that could be addressed through learning analytics is the non-availability of suitable high-quality educational content that is aligned with student needs and preferences as well as employment market needs.
The view is endorsed by Abu Khousa, who said: "Arab higher education institutions must promote analytic learning applications to provide a platform to build up learners’ career-readiness and evaluate their professional development during the course of their academic study with the aim of developing professional orientation, and career path development aligned to industry needs."
The Ministry of Higher Education in Malysia is no longer sponsoring students to pursue their education in Egypt, said Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.
However, he told The National News Agency of Malaysia or BERNAMA that the ministry would still continue sponsoring teaching staff who are continuing their studies in several noted universities overseas.
If Malaysian students still want to study in Egypt, Idris said it was their right to do so on their own.
Idris said it was understood that currently students in Egypt who are sponsored by the government were those finishing their studies there.
Confucius Institutes in Egypt are seeing a huge surge in popularity.
According to the manager at the Institute at Cairo University, they are gradually moving away from targeting students of the Chinese language, and are beginning to attract interest from different faculties, and educational establishments in other cities across Egypt.
The Confucius Institute is a non-profit public educational organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China, whose aim is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
"Over the past two years, we have started to receive students from non-related faculties such as engineering, antiquities, science, law and commerce, as well as tour guides who would like to learn the Chinese language for career development," said Professor Rehab Mahmoud, manager of Confucius Institute and head of Chinese Language Department at Cairo University.
The professor explains that the Confucius Institute has opened branches in many places outside Cairo University, including Pharos University in Alexandria province, Benha University in Qalyoubiya province and Fayoum University in Fayoum province, along with other branches in several high, preparatory and elementary schools across the country.
"From the next semester, we will open a branch in Misr University for Science and Technology in Cairo and another in Aswan University in Upper Egypt's Aswan province," Professor Mahmoud told the Xinhua news agency, noting also that in 2016 the institute has hosted about 1,200 students, plus some 600 students in its various branches.
The Confucius Institute was founded in Cairo University in 2007 in collaboration with Peking University. In 2017, it's due to hold a ceremony to mark the 10th year of providing a bridge for Egyptian-Chinese cultural interaction.
Mahmoud added that Chinese companies in Egypt often ask the Confucius Institute to recommend Egyptian Chinese-speaking employees for them. "We have recently recommended some for Chinese contractors working in the construction of Egypt's new administrative capital city."
Earlier in December, the institute in Cairo was awarded as a "Model Confucius Institute" during the 11th Confucius Institute Conference held in Kunming city of southwest Yunnan Province in China which was attended by some 2,200 representatives from 140 countries and regions.
"We are so proud of the award. It was really the result of massive efforts as we held a lot of activities to mark 2016 as the Egyptian-Chinese Cultural Year," she said.
Egyptian higher education top officials often refer to China's educational experience as inspiring and see academic exchange visits and cooperation with Chinese universities as necessary interaction for both countries that enjoy growing bilateral relations.