Monday, 25 January 2021

It’s happening: Vaccine rollout has started and three more jabs will get regulatory approval soon as Egypt closes in on agreement to manufacture at home

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Ten years ago this morning, one of us turned the corner onto Road 9 in Maadi while on an early-morning coffee run and mumbled about how we could expect exactly nothing to come from demonstrations planned later in the day. An object lesson in hubris…

Twenty years ago this morning, the same now-greybeard landed in Egypt, a country that gave him the chance to create a family, make lifelong friendships, and together with partners build an awesome business. Thank you to each and everyone one of you who have helped make this possible, directly and indirectly.

Thursday will be a paid holiday for the private sector as the nation takes a day off to observe Revolution Day / Police Day, the Manpower Ministry said yesterday. The central bank has confirmed that Thursday is a bank holiday, so you can expect an announcement soon from the EGX any day now.

That sets us up for our customary winter-spring holiday drought: Our next vacation is the 25 April celebration of Sinai Liberation Day, which comes mid-Ramadan. The Holy Month is due to start on or about 13 April.

THE BIG STORY at home this morning: We’re in day two of our covid-19 vaccination campaign — and it looks like we’re about to land manufacturing rights for a jab. Taken together, it is the most positive news of the pandemic we’ve had in nearly a year. We have chapter and verse in the news well, below.

BIG STORIES internationally: The business press is still getting its bearings when it comes to coverage of the Biden administration, which dominates front pages globally. The Financial Times notes that Democrats are pushing for a USD 1.9 tn stimulus package before they start the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump in the US Senate. Republicans think the package is too large. Reuters is also leading with the story, while the Wall Street Journal reports that China has overtaken the US as the world’s leading destination for foreign direct investment.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY-

SMART POLICY- Egypt is teaming up with the United Kingdom to push for practical measures to fight (and cope with) climate change. The initiative will be joined by the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Malawi and Saint Lucia and will push for “early warning systems for storms and investments in flood drainage and in drought-resistant crops,” Reuters adds. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce the Adaptation Action Coalition today as leaders from world powers gather for the two-day, online-only Climate Adaptation Summit. The news comes just days after the Biden administration said it would rejoin the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda kicks off today and runs through Friday. The Swiss ski town of Davos, which traditionally plays host to the annual gathering, is getting a break this year as the coronavirus forces the global elite to take to Zoom. A discussion on the global economic recovery will open the conference this morning while Chinese President Xi Jinping will be able to set the tone for the event when he gives the first special address in the afternoon.

An in-person WEF event is still in the cards for this year, scheduled to take place between 25-28 May in Singapore.

IN OUR BACKYARD: Turkey resumes talks with Greece today after a five year hiatus marked by conflicts over maritime disputes in the Mediterranean, migration, and the divided island of Cyprus, Reuters reports.

IN THE HOUSE-

Ministers appearing continue to present policy priorities to MPs. The irrigation and agriculture ministers went yesterday. Today will see Manpower Minister Mohamed Saafan and Emigration Minister Nabila Makram speak on unemployment and expatriate affairs today, while Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry — who is expected to discuss what the new US administration means for Egypt — and Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Manar Enaba will speak on Tuesday. Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad and Culture Minister Enas Abdel Dayem are up on Wednesday.

Also happening at the House this week: The House Planning and Budgeting Committee convenes today to discuss proposed amendments to the VAT Act and a bill to exempt government treasuries sold internationally from fees and taxes, reports Al Mal. The changes to the VAT law would apply the 14% tax to the rent and purchase of commercial and administrative properties.

The amendments would, if passed, also hike taxes on crackers and some forms of sweets by scrapping a 5% schedule tax and instead making them subject to the full 14% VAT.

Further down the House’s list of legislative priorities: The House ICT Committee expects to begin discussing the draft E-Commerce Act next month when the Madbouly Cabinet ships it back to parliament, committee head Ahmed Badawy tells the local press. The proposed law would tax the living daylights out of global tech giants for their ads and purchases made on their platforms.

Egypt has qualified to the quarter-finals of the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championships, after drawing 25-25 with Slovenia in the final group game yesterday. The Pharaohs took the lead in the second half before the eastern European side scored a late equalizer. Egypt finished the group with 7 points, a point behind group #1 Sweden.

We could be facing the world champions in the quarters: Egypt will face the team that finishes top of group two, which as things stand would be the defending world champion Denmark. The game will take place on Wednesday at 6:30 pm CLT.

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-

Russian officials will land in Hurghada on Wednesday for the umpteenth inspection of the airport’s security measures, ahead of a possible resumption of flights between Russia and the Red Sea resort town, Al Masry Al Youm reports.

Tenders to set up three new commercial and logistics zones in Ismailia, Qalyubia, and South Sinai will be launched this month, head of the Internal Trade Development Agency Ibrahim Ashmawy told Al Mal. Each zone will reel in some EGP 1.5 bn – 5 bn in investments, Ashmawy said.

FOR THE PHOTO NERDS among us: You’re getting new cameras this week. Fujifilm will announce a (small) medium format GFX100S on Wednesday that looks set to be smaller and more affordable than the GFX100, but with the same 100MP sensor. Also look for a new compact X-E4 in the X-mount and some lenses. Sony is teasing a new camera tomorrow, but details are scant: The leader in mirrorless camera sales is promising only “The one never seen.” Whatever that means.

PSA- Businesses have until 31 January (next Sunday) to file wage tax returns for 2020 including separate filings for the first and second halves of the year. Sole traders and folks who generate income from outside of their day job will also need to file electronically for the first time.

Time is running out if you haven’t paid income, value-added, or real estate taxes and want to settle up without all the late fees. Late taxpayers are still eligible for a 50% exemption on interest fees and late penalties until 12 February under a bill passed last year.

enterprise

*** It’s Blackboard day: We have our weekly look at the business of education in Egypt, from pre-K through the highest reaches of higher ed. Blackboard appears every Monday in Enterprise in the place of our traditional industry news roundups.

In today’s issue: A centralized Tansik-style platform for private university admissions is being set up, and we’ve previously looked at what to expect from it and the reasons behind launching it. Today we examine the big concerns with the new system ― namely that it will negatively impact student choice through its electronic allocation mechanism and that universities’ bottom lines may take a hit if student target numbers aren’t reached.

enterprise

COVID WATCH

Egypt launches vaccine campaign, local manufacturing agreement coming in weeks

It’s happening: Vaccine rollout begins + local manufacturing agreement coming in weeks: Our vaccination program officially kicked off yesterday, with medical staff getting the country’s first jabs at over 40 hospitals across Egypt, beginning with the Abu Khalifa hospital in Ismailia. The first doctor to receive the vaccine: Abdel Moneim Selim, who called on the public to take the “safe and effective” vaccine.

The vaccine of choice? The Chinese Sinopharm jab, which was found to be 79% effective against the virus late last year.

Overall, the ministry plans to vaccinate over 410k medical staff and has prepared over 34 vaccine distribution centers nationwide, Health Minister Hala Zayed said at a press conference after watching over the administration of the first vaccination (watch, runtime: 44:13). Medical staff at isolation, chest and fever hospitals are at the head of the list, followed by those with chronic conditions and the elderly.

There’s no timeline yet for a wider rollout to citizens nationwide.

Pregnant women and children in Egypt under 18 — or possibly 16 — will not be getting the jabs, since clinical studies have yet to confirm the vaccines are safe for these individuals, presidential health advisor Mohamed Awad Tag El Din, told Extra News (watch, runtime: 10:50). People with heart and lung diseases or immune disorders as well as cancer patients will be at the head of the list for the vaccine after medical professionals, Tag El Din said.

Members of the public will be able to register for the vaccine on a government website once it goes live, or at their nearest hospital affiliated with the Health Ministry, Zayed said on El Hekaya (watch, runtime: 2:22). The inoculation won’t cost more than EGP 100, with people registered on the Takaful and Karama welfare programs receiving it for free.

People will not be given the first dose unless the second dose is available, she said (watch, runtime: 1:54). The second dose should be given 21 days after the initial inoculation.

But what are the side effects? People may experience a slight rise in temperature and muscle pain, which can be tempered with painkillers, Hossam Hosni, head of the Health Ministry’s ciovid-19 committee, told Masaa DMC’s Eman El Hosary (watch, runtime: 4:44). Symptoms usually dissipate within 24 hours.

Another three jabs should get regulatory approval soon AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinovac will all soon get the go-ahead for emergency use, Zayed told Kelma Akhira’s Lamees El Hadidi last night (watch, runtime: 17:21). Sinopharm’s vaccine is the only one to have been approved by Egyptian regulators so far.

And how many doses do we have coming in the mail? Egypt will receive 40 mn doses — enough for 20 mn people — courtesy of Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), 40 mn doses from Sinopharm and a further 20 mn from AstraZeneca, Zayed said (watch, runtime: 3:34). The delivery timeline remains unclear because of high global demand for very limited stocks, Zayed suggested.

Egypt expects to sign an agreement with a vaccine producer and begin local manufacturing within weeks, Zayed said. Production would take place at Vacsera facilities, and would cover local supply as well as exports to other African countries. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has also previously raised the possibility of us jointly manufacturing the Sputnik V vaccine here at home.

The Health Ministry reported 674 new covid-19 infections yesterday, down from 680 the day before. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 161,817 confirmed cases of covid-19. The ministry also reported 57 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 8,959.

The vaccine rollout is getting attention in the foreign press, including Reuters and the Associated Press.

And it dominated the coverage on the airwaves last night: Masaa DMC had coverage from the Abu Khalifa Hospital for isolation. (watch, runtime: 11:31), Al Hayah Al Youm covered the presser (watch, runtime: 1:22 | 1:40), Kelma Akira’s Lamees El Hadidi also interviewed the health minister (watch, runtime: 17:21), while Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa phoned the first doctor who received the vaccine in Egypt. (watch, runtime: 9:23).

M&A WATCH

Bank ABC isn’t yet buying Blom’s ins. arm

Bank ABC could be getting majority stakes in Blom Bank subsidiary Arope Ins. Egypt, Hapi Journal reports, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter. The Bahraini bank last week agreed to buy Blom’s Egypt banking unit for EGP 6.7 bn, and according to sources may also get its hands on its ins. operations as the Lebanese lender looks to exit Egypt.

What’s up for grabs? Sources say that Blom has agreed to sell ABC stakes in Egyptian insurers held by its subsidiary Arope Ins. Lebanon. Arope owns a 60% stake in Arope Egypt Property and Liability and an 80% stake in Arope Egypt Life.

It won’t be happening for a while though: The two banks agreed to open negotiations for the assets 18 months after the acquisition of Blom Bank Egypt is finalized.

Why not do it all in one go? Blom Bank was apparently willing to offload its stakes in Arope Egypt in parallel with the sale of the bank, but ABC wants to reassess Arope’s operations after 18 months before making a decision, the sources said. ABC also has exclusive rights to acquire the subsidiary for the next 18 months, meaning other buyers will only be able to bid if ABC opts out of the transaction.

OTHER M&A NEWS- EFG Hermes is reportedly advising Suez Cement on the expected sale of its 51% stake in Kuwait’s Hilal Cement, according to Hapi Journal. An offer to offload the stake for some KWD 3 mn (c. EGP 156 mn) kicked off on the Kuwaiti stock exchange yesterday.

EDUCATION

CIRA wants in on the nurseries business

CIRA has acquired a 51% stake in early education startup Innovvette for Education, the private sector education outfit said in a statement (pdf) yesterday. CIRA plans to invest some EGP 50 mn to expand Innovette’s footprint as it looks to start 25 nurseries within five years, the company said in a regulatory filing (pdf). The first three nurseries will operate under the Steamulation Hub and KidzGround brands, and will be located in Maadi and Fayoum.

Innovvette was founded late last year by early childhood education pioneer Dina Abdel Wahab. The company aims to become the leading player in Egypt, the Middle East, and Africa, according to its mission statement.

This will be CIRA’s first foray into the nursery and pre-school segment. “We’ve been seeing a huge demand and a growing market potential in this sector … [and Innovvette] will be a great addition to CIRA’s flagship,” CEO Mohamed El Kalla said.

PRIVATIZATION WATCH

Sovereign Fund eyes controlling stake in e-Finance

SFE eyeing controlling stake in e-Finance ahead of its IPO? The Sovereign Fund of Egypt is reportedly in negotiations to acquire part of the National Investment Bank’s (NIB) 69% stake in state-owned e-payments platform e-Finance, the local press reports, citing sources with knowledge of the matter. The exact size of the stake the SFE is looking to snap up is still under negotiation, but the sources suggest the fund is looking to acquire a controlling stake. The potential acquisition comes as part of the SFE’s plans to expand its investments in the non-banking financial services sector, the sources said.

The potential transaction is expected to close in 1H2021, meaning that it could happen before e-Finance debuts on the EGX. The payments platform is reportedly dusting off plans to IPO and take an undisclosed stake in the company to market in 2Q2021.

AUTOMOTIVE

More EVs, coming right up

EV production plans seeing the light? A project to locally assemble electric vehicles between the Military Production Ministry and an unnamed international company will officially be announced this Wednesday, Youm7 reports. The article does not name the company, but our guess is that this is a revival of the National Organization for Military Production’s (NOMP) 2019 MoU with China’s Geely. According to the newspaper, the ministry’s Helwan Machinery and Equipment Company will set up and operate the production lines.

What are the specs? All we know so far is that the vehicles produced will meet a 45% local component quota.

Full speed ahead towards our electric future: The project’s kick-off comes on the heels of state-owned El Nasr moving ahead with locally producing EVs with China’s Dongfeng, after signing the contracts earlier this month. This all comes as the country’s infrastructure to accommodate electric vehicles is expanding and should include more than 3k charging stations by 2024. The NOMP had also signed an MoU with China’s SSE International and Marathon International Technology to begin production of EV charging stations.

enterprise

DEBT WATCH

Who’s in the market for debt?

Al Tayseer Healthcare Group is looking to borrow EGP 200 mn from the Arab African International Bank to finance its expansion plans, with the final contracts expected to be signed within weeks, Al Tayseer CEO Mohamed Gazar tells the local press. The expansions include adding 120 new hospital beds, expanding the ICU unit, and launching new specialties such as tumor diagnosis at its hospital in Zagazig this year, as well as setting up an ophthalmology center.

Ora Developments is getting a EGP 2.54 bn loan from a banking syndicate led by Emirates NBD Egypt, along with Banque Misr, the Export Development Bank Of Egypt, and the Housing and Development Bank, reports Al Mal. The funding will be used to partly finance the construction of the first and second phases of Sheikh Zayed’s Zed project.

ECONOMY

An industrial shake-up?

Egyptian policymakers need to shake up the country’s industrial sector and put into place a new industrial policy to kickstart economic activity, Beltone Financial executive chairman and capital markets veteran Maged Shawky in an interview with Al Arabiya (watch, runtime: 06:49). Egypt’s large industrial sector already plays an important role in terms of trade and economic growth, but a reorientation of policy towards providing more financial and logistical support, especially when it comes to small-scale, labor-intensive, and export-oriented factories, will better serve the sector, Shawky said.

Digitization and data: As Egypt pushes on with post-IMF structural reform, it’s important to make use of existing tech infrastructure to enable growth in the country’s data, server hosting, and cloud infrastructure sectors, Shawky said. With enough government support, progress in those areas would be key to successful structural reform, he added. Those sectors are being discussed everywhere now, and Shawky believes that, down the line, they’ll be as influential to economic growth as oil prices.

Have you been reading Hardhat? We recently took a deep-dive into Egypt’s data center landscape in part 1 of a three-part series examining Egypt’s potential to emerge as a regional hub for data centers.

EARNINGS WATCH

Sodic shrugged off the covid-19 lockdown to post record gross sales in 2020, the company’s operational results (pdf) revealed yesterday. The company sold more than 1.3k units last year, pushing gross contracted sales to a record EGP 7.4 bn, up 2% y-o-y. The strong figures were driven by residential sales, which rose 19% y-o-y to EGP 7.2 bn. West Cairo projects such as Vye, The Estates, and Karmell accounted for 61% of gross contracted sales while Sodic East and Villete in East Cairo made up the remainder. Sodic met its delivery target during 2020, with some 1,162 units handed over. “The company’s proven track record, strong financials and disciplined approach have allowed us to safely weather a very difficult year.” commented Sodic Managing Director Magued Sherif.

MOVES

Amr El Feky tapped as POD chairman, Gamal Salah staying on as CEO

United Media Services has tapped Amr El Feky as the chairman of its PR agency, POD Egypt, and has renewed Gamal Salah’s (LinkedIn) term as POD’s CEO, Youm7 reports. United Media owns Youm7, ON Network, and Egypt Today, among other media outlets and service providers. Salah has been at POD’s helm for the past five years.

CORRECTION- 25 January 2021

An earlier version of this story stated that Gamal Salah is POD’s managing director.

ENTERPRISE+: LAST NIGHT’S TALK SHOWS

The start of Egypt’s vaccine program held the attention of the nation’s talking heads for most of the night last night, which we cover in full in this morning’s Covid Watch, above.

GERD dominated the conversation in the House yesterday as the irrigation and agriculture ministers took their turns to address the new batch of MPs. Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Aty blamed the failure of the talks on Ethiopia's “intransigence” and said that reaching an agreement that safeguards Egypt’s water quota is currently “the most important file for all state authorities.” Mohamad Aboul Enein, the new Deputy House Speaker, called on the government to reach out to the US, UN and European Union to convince them to weigh in more forcefully on Egypt’s side. Al Hayah Al Youm's Lobna Assal (watch, runtime: 7:49) and Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa (watch, runtime: 5:02 | 4:21 | 4:35) both had coverage of the session.

The Pharaohs’ qualification to the handball quarter-finals got attention across the airwaves after the team drew 25-25 with Slovenia last night (Masaa DMC | watch, runtime: 1:30) (Kelma Akhira | watch, runtime: 2:00), ( Ala Mas’ouleety | watch, runtime: 1:33).

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

The 10th anniversary of the 25 January Revolution is dominating the conversation in the foreign press this morning. The Guardian’s Martin Chulov calls it “Egypt's lost revolution” and the Telegraph’s Colin Freeman reconnecting with several ex-revolutionaries 10 years after the uprising. Elsewhere, the Associated Press talks to several people living in exile who recall their experiences of the revolution.

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Hassan Allam Holding lands contracts for seven major infrastructure projects: Hassan Allam Holding said yesterday (pdf) that subsidiaries Hassan Allam Construction and the International Environmental Technologies Company (Intech) have landed contracts for infrastructure, water and wastewater treatment projects in seven villages spanning five governorates. “The seven new projects will collectively have a total output capacity of 170k m3/day to serve more than 1.5 mn people,” Hassan Allam Construction CEO Mohamed El Dahshoury said, noting the group is also on track to deliver a water treatment plant in Six of October and a wastewater treatment facility in the new administrative capital.

The Public Enterprises Ministry will appoint a liquidator for Egyptian Iron & Steel in three weeks, around the same time that the spun-off mining company is registered on the EGX ahead of listing, Minister Hisham Tawfik said yesterday. The ministry plans to provide each worker with at least EGP 225k in compensation when the company is dissolved, and has taken out a EGP 1 bn loan from the National Investment Bank to fund the payments, Tawfik said yesterday.

Other things we’re keeping an eye on this morning:

PLANET FINANCE

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Investors might be pinning their hopes on the Fed to maintain the emerging-market rally, which showed signs of faltering late last week, Bloomberg says. Vaccine hopes and optimism over the global recovery has pushed EM stocks to record highs in recent weeks but declines in local-currency bonds and a basket of currencies on Friday indicated increasing anxiety over the global economy. Traders will be looking to Washington on Wednesday when the Fed holds its policy meeting for signs that it will keep the liquidity taps on, the business information service says.

GLOBAL M&A WATCH- Advisers are bullish that the 2020 tech M&A boom will continue this year, Bloomberg reports. Volume hit a record USD 470 bn last year as surging tech stocks and central bank liquidity provoked a wave of market concentration. Analysts expect it to continue this year, predicting enterprise technology companies with market values in the range of USD 20-100 bn to look at acquisitions in a bid to eclipse companies such as Adobe and Salesforce.

The red-hot market for IPOs and blank-check companies won’t necessarily work against M&A: “[The IPO market] actually spawns more SPACs, which in turn drive M&A volume,” said Marco Caggiano, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s co-head of North America M&A.

Biden’s regulatory + tax plans could pose a stumbling block: Questions remain about how the new Biden administration will react to major acquisitions in the tech sector, which is facing more scrutiny from Capitol Hill than ever before, while tax changes could also push CEOs to finalize transactions earlier.

Down

EGX30

11,525

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USD (CBE)

Buy 15.67

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Buy 15.67

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Interest rates CBE

8.25% deposit

9.25% lending

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ADX

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– (YTD: +11.3%)

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USD 55.41

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USD 1,855

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BTC

USD 31,978

-1.2% (as of midnight)

The EGX30 fell 1.1% yesterday on turnover of EGP 1.5 bn (9.5% above the 90-day average). Regional investors were net buyers. The index is up 6.3% YTD.

In the green: Dice (+3.5%), Orascom Development Egypt (+1.9%) and Beltone Financial Investment (+0.7%).

In the red: Edita (-2.2%), Ezz Steel (-1.9%) and CIB (-1.9%).

Asian shares were mostly in the green during early trading this morning. The picture looks mixed for Europe while US futures have markets opening in the green later today.

AROUND THE WORLD

Also worth noting this morning:

  • Fahad Al-Mubarak is once again the governor of Saudi Arabia’s central bank after Ahmed Alkholifey was somewhat unceremoniously removed from office. The announcement came as KSA said it aimed to double the size of its sovereign wealth fund by 2025.
  • The Biden administration will work with Israel to expand on the Trump-era agreements signed with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart on Saturday, according to Reuters. The government will also uphold Trump’s controversial decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
  • The UAE has greenlit the establishment of an embassy in Tel Aviv. The Emirati cabinet approved the decision yesterday, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
blackboard

Why the new private sector university application system seems antithetical to a private sector university system: The Higher Education Ministry is launching a centralized platform for private university applications. We’ve laid out the structure of the new system, and why there was a need to launch it — primarily that it stops private universities admitting students who fail to meet their academic criteria because they can pay or have connections.

But concerns exist primarily over choice: The electronic platform will allocate students to universities based on their final grade, superseding choices made by the students or universities. This is very concerning, students, parents and university operators tell Enterprise.

Universities worry they might not reach their student target numbers: The platform’s distribution mechanism could leave some universities short on student quotas, hitting profits, says Chinese University president Ashraf El Shehi. Ironically, this might force some universities to lower their admissions requirements and accept less qualified candidates to stay afloat, he adds. This would have a knock-on effect on their reputations.

A final round of students who didn’t make the system should resolve the issue- gov’t: Universities will choose what percentage of students they accept from the Thanaweya Amma and other systems, with the Tansik-style platform allocating numbers accordingly, head of the Supreme Council of Private Universities Mohamed Helmy Al Ghar tells Enterprise. If universities have vacancies after the process has finished, they can accept students directly, he confirms.

There’s anxiety all round about losing the right to select candidates using criteria beyond the final grade. This is an area of major concern, says one school operator, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If I have two candidates with similar final grades, I might prefer to choose the sports player, or the person with strong entrepreneurial skills. A difference of just 1 or 2% isn’t that important to me,” they add.

The final grade on its own isn’t sufficient demonstration of ability, agree El Shehi and Future University of Egypt head Ebada Sarhan. Using the final grade as the sole criteria for admissions and distribution fails to take into account foreign language competency and interpersonal skills — which private universities place great value on, they add.

Ultimately, private universities should be able to choose between students within the same grade range, if they have other criteria to use when evaluating them, says the school operator.

The government argues that as long as private universities can set their own admissions tests and control expenses, they retain autonomy. This means private universities won’t be compromised in terms of the investment value they provide, says Al Ghar. Some operators agree with this notion, including El Shehi and Badr University president Mustafa Kamal.

The problem of choice weighs heavy on parents and students: A student that’s unhappy with the university he’s been assigned to has to wait a year to reapply or transfer, according to the Supreme Council of Private Universities guidelines. To parents paying for their children to attend private university, this is highly problematic and makes no sense, says parent Manar Mohammed, who is essentially in favor of a centralized admissions platform. “The idea is that with private universities, I have the ability to choose in a way I can’t with public universities,” agrees Mostafa, a BUE student.

It’s likely to prompt parents to rescind support: “If this is the case, I wouldn’t welcome the system anymore,” agrees Mohammed. “If my child is eligible for several universities, she should be able to choose between them. I don’t see why you wouldn’t allow for that,” she adds.

What’s the point of even having a private sector? Evenly distributing students is a public sector approach, and applying it to private universities misses the point, some argue. “The private sector doesn’t work like that,” says academic Elizabeth Buckner, assistant professor of higher education at the University of Toronto, who has written extensively on education policies in Egypt and the region. If some private universities are in high demand because of their quality, reputation, or specialized degree programs, that’s a sign of sectoral strength. “It’s hard to see a convincing argument for the government evenly distributing students within private sector institutions,” she adds.

And though many countries have centralized admissions systems, few are both administrative and regulatory, like Egypt’s platform. “Trying to achieve both aims definitely sounds like a challenge,” says Buckner. Systems like the UK’s UCAS are purely administrative.

Fears are heightened by a lack of clear information: Much is still unknown about the new system, compounding worries that it may not work as planned, or that distribution delays could leave universities short of students, says the school operator. “We don’t know when the window for admission through the unified platform will open and close, or when universities can start accepting students directly.”

The official line is ‘wait and see,’ but apprehension is evident: It’s too early to judge the system before it’s been tested, says Kamal. Many officials echo this comment. But off the record, sources report concern that information about the system’s implementation has been so limited. Failure to address the all-important issue of choice is the biggest problem of all, they say.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • The Education Ministry has reversed a 20% cap on foreign ownership of international and private schools in Egypt, allowing schools to be fully owned by individuals, funds, or companies with foreign or dual nationalities, provided they’re registered and based in Egypt.
  • SAT subject tests have been scrapped by the US College Board and universities will rely instead on the results of Advanced Placement courses (APs) as indicators of a student’s subject-specific knowledge.
  • Mid-year examinations will begin after students return from their mid-year vacation on 20 February, Higher Education Minister Khaled Abd El-Ghaffar said on Saturday.
  • Teachers will be able to access digital training courses without charge on ta3limy.com after a partnership agreement was signed by Vodafone Egypt Foundation for Community Development and education company BalancED to offer the service.
  • Unionaire plans to establish a scientific academy in the new capital in July that will allow masters and doctoral holders to carry out practical research, Chairman Mohamed Osman told Al Mal.

CALENDAR

13-31 January (Wednesday-Sunday): Egypt will host the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championship in four venues in Alexandria, Cairo, Giza and the New Capital.

25 January (Monday): 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

25-29 January (Monday-Friday): The World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda (virtual).

26 January (Tuesday): AUC’s School of Business webinar on “Rethinking Macroeconomics in the Digital Age.” Registration available here.

26 January (Tuesday): Uber will host a virtual panel discussion titled ‘Tech for Transport Safety’, which will be the inaugural panel in a MENA-wide series of events under the name Ignite.

26-28 January (Tuesday-Thursday): Future Investment Initiative, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

28 January (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

31 January (Sunday): The deadline for businesses to electronically submit their annual tax return to the Egyptian Tax Authority.

4 February (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

6-18 February (Saturday-Thursday): Mid-year school break (public schools — enjoy the break from bumper-to-bumper traffic).

18 March (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

8-10 April (Thursday-Saturday): The TriFactory’s Endurance Festival at Somabay.

13 April (Monday): First day of Ramadan (TBC).

25 April (Sunday): Sinai Liberation Day.

29 April (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sinai Liberation Day (TBC)

29 April (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

1 May (Saturday): Labor Day (national holiday).

2 May (Sunday): Easter Sunday.

3 May (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

13-15 May (Thursday-Saturday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

25-28 May (Tuesday-Friday): The World Economic Forum annual meeting, Singapore.

31 May-2 June (Monday-Wednesday): Egypt Petroleum Show, Egypt International Exhibition Center, New Cairo.

30 May-15 June (Wednesday-Thursday): Cairo International Book Fair.

1 June (Tuesday): The IMF will conduct a second review of targets set under the USD 5.2 bn standby loan approved in June 2020 (proposed date).

17 June (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

24 June (Thursday): End of the 2020-2021 academic year (public schools).

26-29 June (Saturday-Tuesday): The Big 5 Construct Egypt, Cairo International Convention Center

30 June (Wednesday): June 30 Revolution Day

1 July: (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 30 June Revolution

30 June- 15 July: National Book Fair.

1 July (Thursday): Large taxpayers that have not yet signed on on to the e-invoicing platform will suffer a host of penalties, including removal from large taxpayer classification, losing access to government services and business, and losing subsidies.

19 July (Monday): Arafat Day (national holiday)

20-23 July (Tuesday-Friday): Eid Al Adha (national holiday)

23 July (Friday): Revolution Day (national holiday)

5 August (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

9 August (Monday): Islamic New Year

16 September (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

1 October (Friday): Expo 2020 Dubai opens

6 October (Wednesday): Armed Forces Day

7 October (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Armed Forces Day

18 October (Monday): Prophet’s Birthday

28 October (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

13-17 December: United Nations Convention against Corruption, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

16 December (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

Note to readers: Some national holidays may appear twice above. Since 2020, Egypt has observed most mid-week holidays on Thursdays regardless of the day on which they fall and may also move those days to Sundays. We distinguish below between the actual holiday and its observance.

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