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Monday, 25 October 2021

The World Bank wants our post-secondary education systems to be more resilient. How’s Egypt doing?

Is Egypt meeting the World Bank’s prescriptions on making post-secondary education better? The World Bank recently published a paper (pdf) pushing for tertiary education (post-secondary education, including higher ed, vocational training, and technical colleges) reform. The covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated global challenges faced by countries looking to improve their post-secondary education, and showing the need to invest strategically in post-secondary education — for economic growth and to better prepare for the next systemic shock — the paper argues.

For Egypt, the issues highlighted by the paper are becoming more critical, thanks to our booming population — set to balloon to 192 mn by 2052 from an estimated 102 mn. Egypt’s post-secondary education enrollment stood at 35.1% in 2017, just below the 2017 MENA average of 41.1%.

Is Egypt’s post-secondary education up to WB standards? The paper sets out a policy framework, focused on five principles, to boost systemic resilience. Today, we look at what Egypt’s doing in the five areas it identifies as key.

1- Diversifying education systems: In tandem with supporting university programs (public and private) policymakers should be looking at strengthening education in areas including technical and vocational education, the report says.

Egypt’s already making technical education a priority: The government plans to launch six new technical colleges in FY2021-2022, while CIRA’s launching its private sector technical college in September 2023. As of June 2021, 36 private universities and tech institutions offered apprenticeship programs, up from 18 in 2014. And a local accreditation authority for technical learning, vocational schools and training programs was set up last year.

2- Investment in new technologies: Covid-19 hastened the global adoption of new tech, but unequal access contributes to widening equity gaps for post-secondary students, the report notes.

This was already in the pipeline prior to covid: Pre-pandemic, the government was already trying to promote online learning, launching the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) in 2014 to provide access to academic resources. When covid hit, the Higher Education Ministry was very forward-leaning in moving to online learning, USAID said.

Covid boosted Egypt’s use of online learning platforms, though its reliability was often questioned. Egypt’s educational institutions upped their investment in online learning platforms following March closures, which university students told us were reasonably effective when it came to content delivery and assignment setting. They did complain, however, that they aren’t sufficiently interactive and make it difficult to check understanding with professors. Tech unreliability was frequently cited as an impediment to learning, with some students saying online platforms could be too complicated or subject to disturbances. They did however like the flexibility of online learning and were generally in favor of online exams.

And may have helped accessibility: Some programs — like university career centers — actually expanded their reach during the pandemic. And education providers were driven to look more closely at offering fully-online degrees.

3- Equity in access and financing: Tackling inequality in post-secondary education means addressing issues including socioeconomic, gender and disability divisions, levels of enrollment, and differences in labor market success, the report tells us.

Egypt’s improving enrollment rates and geographic access: Some 3 mn students are currently enrolled in Egypt’s higher education institutions, up 30.4% from 2.3 mn in 2014. Increasingly, universities are opening in multiple governorates, bucking the trend of Cairo-focused expansion.

Scholarship programs are becoming more widespread: USAID provided scholarships to some 4k Egyptians in 40 years, it estimates. Its dual program with AUC funds scholarships at several Egyptian universities, targeting students from low-income backgrounds, and aiming for a 50-50 male-female ratio, and more inclusion of people with disabilities.

But we still face labor market divisions and skills mismatch: Though almost equal numbers of Egyptian women and men graduate with STEM degrees, many fewer women pursue STEM careers. People with disabilities face exclusion throughout Egypt’s education system, reflected in low workplace participation.

4- Efficiency in using resources: The report emphasizes the importance of not only having resources, but using them effectively. This could involve providing more targeted financing, better quality assurance and human resource management, the report tells us.

Egypt’s been upping its education spending: The government was set to invest EGP 424 bn (c.USD 26 bn) in education and scientific research in FY2020-2021, and reportedly spent EGP 90 bn on higher education alone, we reported. The FY2021-2022 budget will see total spending on education alone reach EGP 388.1 bn, an increase from previous years.

And working to pool and distribute its resources: Egypt’s allocating more resources to outlying governorates, with new private and non-profit universities opening across the country. The government reportedly plans to build 14 private non-profit universities in different locations within two years. And the push to get new technical colleges and vocational schools off the ground has had private sector buy-in.

5- Resilience in service delivery: Covid-19 has shown the post-secondary education system needs strengthening to better withstand shocks, the paper argues. This includes building better infrastructure for distance and blended learning, enhancing funding sustainability, and providing more teacher training.

Egypt’s ICT infrastructure withstood the crisis reasonably well: Public and private sectors boosted capacity during the 2020 lockdown, and the government’s 2012 EGP 37 bn transition plan to connect c.34 mn homes to fiber optic cables is currently 90% complete. Egypt’s internet penetration and speed grew in 2020, as did overall use of smart devices.

But we’re not yet there with funding sustainability: Funding for higher education institutions — even AUC — is challenging. With tuition fees also rising, and loans a challenge, overall higher education financing appears increasingly less sustainable. It’s hard to quantify the impact of this on systemic resilience — especially in notoriously weak areas, like teacher training — but it’s unlikely to be good.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • CIRA, Al Ahly Capital to launch EGP 2 bn education investment company: Cairo for Investment and Real Estate Development (CIRA) and Al Ahly Capital Holding (the investment arm of state-owned NBE) have agreed to launch a new company to invest in middle-income education providers.
  • SFE education sub-fund coming soon: The Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE) is planning to launch two new sub-funds, with one focused on education and the other on manufacturing and distribution chains.
  • The House of Representatives approved the agreement signed between Egypt and the French Development Agency (AFD) in June to re-establish a new campus for the French University in Egypt. The agreement, which was approved by the cabinet in July, consists of a EUR 12 mn loan and a EUR 2 mn grant from the AFD.

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