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Monday, 4 January 2021

Education: What’s to come in 2021?

Education: What’s to come in 2021? In 2020, the world saw massive educational disruption amid covid-19 school and university closures. Though education remained a defensive sector in Egypt, it faced many challenges. Moving into 2021, we asked education leaders what key issues are on their minds.

Their answers? Continuing in-person learning, investing wisely, and navigating exams. We’ll also be keeping an eye on electronic university admissions, possible education IPOs, and continued construction.

International K-12 schools are taking the Education Ministry’s directive to move back online in their stride: School leaders had been monitoring rising covid-19 case rates to see if they’d need to move fully online again, so they were prepared when Education Minister Tarek Shawki released a statement last week that fully-online learning will resume until late February, say representatives. “We're relatively ready, though no one wanted this,” says El Alsson’s Executive Director Karim Rogers.

The big question is, when can they reopen? An estimated seven private schools had successfully resumed full-time classroom learning since the beginning of the academic year, says Rogers. Their aim was to continue this — as long as it was safe, say Rogers and Schutz’s Assistant Head of School Massimo Laterza. While respecting the ministry’s directive is a must for safety, Rogers wants to resume in-person learning as soon as possible, he says.

As the year goes on, contingency plans will be bolstered by continued investment in health and safety measures, and in online learning: OPEX investment in extra sanitation, masks and other equipment is likely to remain steady or see a slight increase in 2021, say private school leaders. “We invested heavily in safety and online learning provision, and if we continue with this level of investment now, we’ll be in very good shape,” says GEMS CEO Ahmed Wahby.

But vaccine hopes will fuel impatience with online and blended learning: The 2020 shift online worked in a crisis, but is unlikely to be sustainable in the long run, says Laterza. He and Rogers agree that blended learning will be more integrated into K-12 education one day, but not in 2021. “It will take longer, particularly because of the vaccine,” says Laterza. “Everyone’s placing all their hopes on the vaccine. They want to go back to regular school.”

And while covid disrupts education, tuition debates will continue: Disputes over tuition discounts or refunds are linked to how much value (or not) parents see in their schools’ online or blended learning — which varies greatly, say Rogers and Laterza. Parents will be understanding if the government orders school closures, but frustration may grow if they feel online learning isn’t benefiting their children, Laterza believes. 47% of respondents to our June survey on e-learning and 34% of respondents to our December survey on blended learning either disagreed or strongly disagreed with continuing to use their schools’ platforms as they stood.

The hope is for a light touch when it comes to government tuition oversight: The government cap on annual tuition increases will remain a hot topic for debate, especially among private school owners, Laterza predicts. “I think private school owners will keep negotiating to raise the cap in 2021. The sector’s been affected since the 2016 EGP float, when the cap was first imposed,” he adds. Extra covid-19 costs have hit schools hard, says Rogers. “Will the ministry get involved in the issue of fee increases? I don’t know. I hope not, because we’re in recruitment season now, and most of our hires are from overseas.”

Along with accelerating crucial regulatory issues, like foreign ownership limits: Accelerating exemptions to the 20% cap on foreign ownership limits for K-12 schools would create a lot of positive momentum for FDI in the education sector, says Wahby. “That’s a priority moving into 2021.”

The Higher Education Ministry’s launching a streamlined platform for private university application in Spring semester 2021, starting with a pilot phase for some private and nonprofit universities, we reported recently. The platform will then become mandatory for all universities, starting from the Fall semester of the 2021-22 academic year.

Private universities are downplaying any concerns about university autonomy being threatened: One school official said last year the new system could raise concerns about universities’ autonomy in selecting their student body. But private universities will essentially remain independent because they will retain their rights in several important areas, the presidents of Badr University, Future University, the Japanese University, Chinese University and Misr University for Science and Technology tell Enterprise. These include the right to hold admissions tests to select the students they want and to decide what percentage of students they accept from different school systems (such as the American Diploma, or International Baccalaureate), without ministry interference.

University autonomy won’t look quite the same: “Private universities won’t have precisely the same freedom now, but as long as a university is able to choose its own students, this is independence,” says Badr University President Mustafa Kamal. Structuring the new system seemed to be a relatively inclusive process, with different private universities involved in discussions, says the Knowledge Hub President Mahmoud Allam.

The growth of international branch campuses may take a back seat to local university construction this year: There’s currently less buzz about international branch campuses and more about new local universities like King Salman University, says Yehia Bahei El Din, BUE’s Vice President for Research & Postgraduate Studies. Ten more are opening this year, and already seeing high demand from students and faculty members, he adds. International branch campuses will continue, but may face some challenges in recruiting expat staff this year, Bahei El Din predicts.

As a sector, education will remain defensive in 2021: 2020 trends of high CAPEX investment, school and university construction in the New Capital, Sheikh Zayed, and New Cairo, and the growth of franchising are all expected to continue into 2021, say multiple sources. “Egypt’s education market will continue being as strong, if not stronger, in 2021,” predicts Wahby. “It’s resilient, with high demand and strong potential.” Top schools have the funds and capacity to continue with CAPEX investment, agrees Rogers. And the growth of international franchises will be welcomed by the ministry because of high demand for schools, he believes.

But the rate of school construction in greater Cairo won’t be seen immediately elsewhere: Schools will be built in Ain Sokhna and El Alamein, but not this year, predicts Rogers. “With the new railway connection, there’ll be a jump in demand for schools there — but probably not immediately.” International franchises won’t target Alexandria yet, believes Laterza, as the international schools market is relatively saturated. “Most schools opening here are private national schools, targeting Egyptians who intend to remain in Egypt.”

Could 2021 be the year for more education IPOs? With the news that CI Capital plans to list up to 40% of its education management arm Taaleem Consulting and Educational Services in an IPO in 1Q2021, combined with 2020’s strong education stock performance — outperforming the benchmark EGX30 — we can’t be the only ones wondering if more IPOs are in the offing.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Schools and universities moved back online and exams were postponed to after the mid-year break as a precautionary measure against the pandemic.
  • The Education Ministry signed an agreement with Microsoft Egypt to equip educators and students with Microsoft technology and create an e-service to benefit the ministry’s digital education platforms.
  • Sharjah’s Big Heart Foundation is allocating some AED 114k to provide more education support to 150 non-enrolled students aged between 6 -14 years in Luxor, Gulf News reports.
  • The Egypt Japan University Of Science & Technology will establish the first virtual lab in Egypt that will help students gain skills and knowledge in fields such as VR technology. The EU provided the university with EUR 2 mn funding for the project, reports Al Masry Al Youm.

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