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.
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 American University in Cairo (AUC) has dropped in university rankings worldwide by 20 according to the QS World University Rankings of 2016/2017, while Cairo University has dropped by 50. The AUC dropped from number 345 in 2015 to number 365 in 2016, while Cairo University dropped from 501-550 in 2015 to 551-600 in 2016.
The AUC is still ranked the fifth university in the Arab region and Cairo University is the 10th. Ain Shams University is ranked number 12 in the Arab region and Alexandria University is number 14.
The number one university in the Arab region is King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, while the top spot worldwide is held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
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.
When South Sudan became independent in 2011, there were hopes that higher education, and education in general, would top the national spending priority list. The country has six universities, five of which are public and one of which is private, with the number of students in the country estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000.
Since 2011, however, budgets have been reduced as part of national austerity measures. To make matters worse (to say the very least), when the country entered into what I personally call a war of insanity in December 2013, public universities were badly affected, with students, faculty and staff displaced, and assets destroyed. Now, at certain times, university administrators are challenged with the question of whether to close universities or keep them open. It is hoped that the recent peace deal between the government and rebels will be sustainable and provide tangible solutions, but higher education institutions in South Sudan still face basic challenges.
Violence and insecurity
The most important challenge to higher education in South Sudan is the vicious circle of insecurity in both the periphery and the centre of the country. Four of the five public universities are located in states prone to be attacked either by the rebels fighting the government, or by local communities in conflict with each other. As a result, many highly skilled foreign academics have left the universities and returned to their countries, or sought jobs with international non-governmental organisations. Because of insecurity and interruptions in the learning and academic cycles, many students have left the country to enrol in universities in neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia or Sudan. Some students and staff, traumatised by the murderous attacks, are too scared to return to the campuses and thus they interrupt their studies or drop out altogether. However, the recent peace deal signed in Juba might help overcome this fear of insecurity.
Brain drain and public financing
A number of outstanding home-grown faculty have left South Sudan to seek refuge elsewhere, in search of greener pastures. Before July 2015, academics in South Sudan were receiving 35 per cent less in salary than their counterparts in East Africa. This led to brain drain. The incentive of state education is that beneficiaries should pay back to the state by way of serving the community in their respective specialties. This is compromised if these individuals prefer to work elsewhere. The implication is the insufficient number of faculty at public universities, hence the huge student-to-faculty ratio. The national government pays the salaries of staff and faculty at public universities, but little else. There is no funding available for construction or maintenance of infrastructure, for research, holding examinations or student accommodations. With these realities, universities are faced with the challenge of having to shut down. So far no university has done so, but extended holidays are not uncommon and severely disrupt academic life. The delays provoke frustration and exacerbate the need to improve working conditions.
Technology and labour market needs
As in other developing countries, the demands of students enrolled nowadays in universities in South Sudan present a formidable challenge for university academics and administrators. Students need lecture theatres equipped with modern pedagogical equipment, air conditioning, stable electricity and the means to commute to and from the university. Students are easily annoyed when lacking favourable conditions for learning. The faculty also face major challenges, lacking both standard equipment as well as knowledge on how to use digital resources. The central purpose of education is to foster skills and values for individuals to successfully fit into society and engage in productive activity to earn a living. The current labour market requires a thorough understanding of modern technology, flexibility and creativity, and social intelligence. As observed above, insufficient technological tools might compromise the opportunity for university students to learn needed skills for the labour market, resulting in a mismatch of competencies and unemployment.
Foreign universities and transnational education
The increasing number of private institutions of post-secondary education in neighboring Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan reflects an enormous competition for students in the region. The attraction of South Sudanese to foreign universities is probably caused by better learning environments, course duration, curriculum, level of technology, higher standard of living at low cost, integrated student support mechanisms and the diversity of the student population, which provides unique opportunities for international exchanges. These conditions prompt students to cross borders in search of better educational conditions. Students tend to leave for foreign universities where they are certain of graduating within a specified period of time, and with better standards as compared to domestic universities.
Although higher education in South Sudan faces enormous challenges, it is moving in the right direction. Since 2013, more South Sudanese academics and staff have joined foreign universities for capacity building. If they return to the country, they will provide the much needed know-how to improve the quality of education. The recent peace deal, if it is sustained, will provide avenues for international inter-university exchanges, improvement in learning facilities, an increase in student enrolment, especially women, and resources might be invested in education.