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Monday, 26 July 2021

New ‘technical colleges’ are key to the government’s current education strategy. But what exactly are they and what are they doing?

New technical colleges are key to the government’s current education strategy. But can the private sector buy in? Launching new technical colleges to produce students whose skills better match labor market needs has become a top government priority. A plan is underway to launch six new government technical colleges in FY2021-2022, after three were recently established in New Cairo, Quesna and Beni Suef. All nine cost approximately EGP 1 bn, Ahmed El Hayawi, who heads the Higher Education Ministry’s Education Development Fund (EDF) — the government agency overseeing the establishment of the government’s tech colleges — estimated in March.

Enter private sector education outfit CIRA, which plans to launch Egypt’s first private sector technical college in September 2023, CEO Mohamed El Kalla tells Enterprise. Other private sector operators are eager to gauge if there’s a market for private applied tech institutions, he notes. “And when it comes to industry players, there’s been nothing but excitement.”

What are technical colleges? Think of them as advanced apprenticeship programs merging academics and technical training. CIRA and the government’s tech colleges will offer two-year + two-year degree programs, regulated by the Higher Education Ministry. Students that complete the first two years graduate with technical diplomas, while students that complete all four years are awarded Bachelor’s degrees. CIRA tech college graduates will be able to sit the Meister exam — a German vocational qualification that allows holders to study at German applied sciences universities.

The issue everyone’s trying to address? Employability: The government and CIRA are trying to bridge Egypt’s ‘employability gap’, identified by the private sector and development finance institutions like the EBRD. Industry employers struggle to find candidates with both strong technical skills and the soft skills needed for the workplace, says El Kalla. The tech colleges aim to tackle this: students will graduate with highly sought-after Bachelor’s degrees — and academic training — along with practical skills they can use immediately in technical positions, he adds.

A few core subjects are the focus for the new degrees: New energy programs, automotive technology, health, and manufacturing artificial limbs are the most in-demand programs in public tech colleges, and currently some 2k students are studying them, says El Hayawi. CIRA hasn’t finalized which disciplines its tech college will offer, but they’ll likely be linked to sectors identified by the IFC and others as key areas for growth in Egypt: logistics, tourism, medical and industrial manufacturing.

And practical work experience will be a core component: Students in government colleges will be able to seek employment after obtaining their technical diplomas, and return within three years to complete their Bachelor’s degrees, Beni Suef University of Technology President Sayed Abdel Kader tells Enterprise. Under CIRA’s program, students will need to spend at least two semesters working in an industry or service area after completing their first two years, says El Kalla.

This all needs private sector buy-in: CIRA is looking into setting up partnerships with industry associations and multinationals to facilitate work experience for technical college attendees, says El Kalla. Meanwhile, private sector companies El Sewedy, Samsung and Bavaria have already funded labs at public tech colleges, says El Hayawi.

Gov’t colleges are leveraging international expertise and resources where possible: Beni Suef University of Technology has already been awarded a grant of USD 5.8 mn from Korea Tech University, says Abdel Kader. The grant is going towards the study of labor market needs, training faculty members, and setting up labs, he adds.

And so is CIRA: German private sector education provider Saxony International School (SIS) and Switzerland’s Business and Hotel Management School are providing their own technical curricula for CIRA’s technical college. For a year, they’ll train a cohort of some 60 Egyptian instructors. The German and Swiss partners will manage the college campus — located at CIRA’s Badr University — for its first five years, says El Kalla. In exchange, CIRA’s paying them a retainer and a percentage of student fees.

Finding the right candidates to train as technical college instructors will be challenging, notes El Kalla. Ideally, they’d be mid-career professionals — either academics or industry experts able to focus on employability, he says. CIRA plans to conduct a long interview process starting in June 2022 to find the right candidates.

But strong interest is expected from students: CIRA’s target students would normally attend apprenticeships programs that don’t offer academic degrees — either because they didn’t get the required Thanaweya Amma grades or because they can’t afford university — says El Kalla. “But they all want Bachelor’s degrees.” CIRA’s technical college will cost only slightly more than these programs, he adds: “Nothing that exceeds EGP 30k per year.” The minimum qualification for acceptance will be the Thanaweya Amma or a technical high school diploma, he says.

Private sector industry players seem keen to get on board: “Ever since we announced our plan to set up a private tech college, we’ve been bombarded with interest,” says El Kalla. High turnover and a lack of qualified employees are major problems for private sector companies, who often resort to in-house training. They have a vested interest in helping the tech colleges get off the ground, he adds.

Looking ahead, more private sector education operators could follow in CIRA’s footsteps — perhaps through public-private partnerships. Private sector players and the government are said to be mulling public-private partnerships to set up tech colleges, though no action has yet been taken, say sources. The government would also consider setting incentives to encourage private sector investment, says El Hayawi.

Though for now, profitability concerns are causing some private sector hesitation, El Hayawi says. Technical colleges need to be well furnished with labs and workshops, raising the cost of establishing a single institution to EGP 700-800 mn, he adds. So private sector operators are currently more focused on building the capacity of scientific and tech departments in existing private universities, he believes. He expects this to change, saying we’ll see a host of private tech colleges spring up within three years.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Public-private partnerships: The government will establish 1k language schools by 2030 in partnership with the private sector, providing quality education with reduced fees.
  • German education funding: German development bank KfW is set to provide EUR 41 mn to the Education Ministry over the coming year for projects that aim to develop technical and vocational education in Egypt.
  • More local branches of European universities: A syndicate of banks led by the National Bank of Egypt will provide (pdf) an EGP 962 mn loan for the establishment of new branches of European universities in Egypt.
  • CIRA net income increases by 40%: Private sector education boosted CIRA’s net income by 40% in the first nine months of FY2020-2021.

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