Some 700 students enrolled in three newly opened technology universities in Egypt this year as part of government efforts to develop the country’s vocational education and cope with the needs of the local and regional labor market.
The new universities are located in New Cairo City; in Quesna, 40 miles north of Cairo; and in Beni Suef, about 60 miles south of Cairo, all of which include modern industrial zones. The three universities offer specializations in information technology, mechatronics and autotronics (modern automotive technology), power plant operation and maintenance technology. Other universities are planned later with specializations in areas like construction, maintenance, building materials, health and applied sciences, and fisheries and aquaculture.
The new universities offer degrees ranging from post-intermediate higher diplomas to Bachelor of Technology, Vocational Master’s and Vocational Doctorate in Technology degrees. Under the current vocational-education system, the secondary level is the end of the academic path, and students are expected to join the labor market after graduating.
“We are here to correct the course of education in Egypt,” said Sayed Abdel Kader, a professor of chemistry and president of the new University of Technology in Beni Suef. “This will provide an opportunity for vocational secondary education students to complete their education and get a higher academic degree and better practical training to meet the aspirations of many and the needs of the labor market as well.”
Admission to the new technology universities is subject to a number of conditions, including secondary-school exit exam results and tests of English-language, computer and mathematics skills. Students have the option of obtaining a professional diploma and joining the labor market after two years, or pursuing another two years of study to obtain a bachelor’s degree in technology.
Ahmed al-Hayawi, secretary-general of the government’s Education Development Fund and advisor to the minister of higher education for vocational education, believes in the importance of technological universities in developing vocational education.
“Vocational education students had only very limited access to universities” after completing their secondary studies, he said. “These universities would greatly help to improve the societal perception of vocational-education graduates.”
Training in Skills Employers Want
Egypt’s vocational-education system receives 40 percent of the country’s secondary school students annually, about 1.9 million students, distributed among schools offering agricultural, industrial, commercial, and hotel and tourism education programs. However, about half of the system’s graduates are unemployed, according to official statements. The lack of skills needed by the labor market is one of the main causes of unemployment. (See a related article, “Egyptian Vocational Education Largely Fails the Country’s Youth.”)
“The situation at the new universities is quite different,” said Nada Mohamed, an 18-year-old student at Beni Suef University of Technology. “Practical training starts at the first year, and the smaller number of students compared to those in vocational schools gives them a better chance of learning and gaining better skills, and hence a better chance to get a suitable job later,” she added. (See a related article, “Graduates of Egyptian Vocational Programs Find Job Prospects Slim.”)
Kamal Mogheeth, a researcher at Egypt’s National Center for Educational Research and Development, believes that establishing more technological universities in Egypt will not only contribute to the development of vocational education, but also change the negative image associated with vocational education.
“The societal perception of vocational education is low as a result of poor management of technical education, poor outputs, and lack of decent jobs for its students,” he said. “However, such universities and the opportunities they offer for students will certainly change this perception.”
Concern About the Cost of Studying
Still, enrollment at these universities does not appear to be widely available because of their costs. Tuition fees range from 8,000 to 12,000 Egyptian pounds ($500 to $750), and the average monthly student spending on transportation and housing is 1,600 pounds ($100). That means students will need about 25,000 pounds ($1,550) annually to attend—an amount many secondary school students cannot afford, especially those who choose the vocational path for its cheaper costs.
“The expenses are very high, and it’s not easy to manage,” said Ali Abdel Hamid, a first-year student at the Egyptian-South Korean College for Technology, Industry and Energy in Beni Suef.
Abdel Hamid works in a car maintenance workshop to cover his expenses, and he fears that he will not be able to continue working alongside his study later. “I want to continue studying,” he said. “It is my only chance for a better tomorrow, but I am afraid I will not be able to continue.”
Mohammed Sami, a professor of business administration at Alexandria University, believes in the value of the new universities but also says their costs are disproportionately high, especially for families that would send their children to vocational education. The average annual income of Egyptian households in 2018 amounted to 58,900 Egyptian pounds ($3,650), according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
“The success of this experiment depends mainly on helping vocational-education students and providing them with better opportunities,” he said. “They must be helped, either by reducing these expenses or by looking for alternatives and making them available to students.”