By Brett Borkan
CAIRO: With its funds frozen, its reputation potentially damaged, and its ability to conduct research threatened, the fate of Nile University, Egypt’s first nonprofit research university, remains in jeopardy as the government continues to leave it in the dark regarding its access to the 127 acre campus specially designed and built for its use.
According to university president Dr Tarek Khalil, NU was barred from moving into the new campus in February following the revolution, when oversight of the campus’ land was transferred from the Ministry of Information and Technology to the Educational Development Fund of the Prime Minister’s office.
Khalil told Daily News Egypt that he was in disbelief when it was announced in May that the land would instead be developed into the Ahmed Zewail City of Science and Technology, complaining that the decision was made “without the consultation of Nile University.”
“We don’t understand this decision at all, it’s very strange. We’ve been designing and planning this construction of Nile University on that site for four years, and just as we finished the construction and were ready to move in, they dropped this bombshell on us,” explained Khalil, who returned to Egypt several years ago to start Nile University, after having spent the last 40 years working in higher education in the US.
He also explained that efforts to gain a clear explanation from the Educational Development Fund or the Prime Minister’s office have been unsuccessful.
“We’ve tried to clarify the situation we face and communicate the potential consequences of destroying [Nile University], but we haven’t received any articulated clear reason that makes sense. There has been no transparency.”
Dr Hazem Ezzat, the university’s chief research officer, told DNE that he feels that the government is “not trying to intentionally destroy the university,” but that eventually, “its actions will lead to [its destruction].”
The Educational Development Fund, for its part, refused to comment on the situation facing the university and the reallocation of the campus land, explaining that the Prime Minister’s office is responsible for handling these issues, not the EDF.
DNE’s repeated attempts to contact the Prime Minister’s office were not successful.
As for Nile University’s efforts of communicating with Zewail, Khalil explained that the only information received so far has been that they are working on a “road map” for developing the campus into the Zewail City of Science and Technology.
In early June, Zewail was reported by Nature.com saying “his project should absorb the students at Nile University once it is operational.”
However, Ezzat argued that this doesn’t make sense because Nile University “is already established,” and such an agreement with Zewail won’t be able to take effect for a long time. He also said that he fears his university could face irreparable damage and collapse before any sort of solution is finally reached, as a result of failing to deliver on “contractual research relationships and strategic partnerships NU has developed with universities and companies around the world.”
“We spent five years getting to where we are today, and we have exceeded all expectations. If this [work] is damaged, confidence in us will be destroyed. Who’s going to want to come back and deal with us after that?” Khalil warned.
In addition, some individuals in Egypt who have previously pledged money to Nile University have subsequently “backed out due to the uncertainty,” he added.
In regards to the buildings currently used by the university, located in Smart Village outside of Cairo, many students and faculty complain that they are not capable of supporting the number of students or type of research conducted.
“Students have to study on the stairs because there aren’t enough rooms. And we only have one lab; it’s located in a garage here,” Mustafa Shamaa, president of the university’s student union told DNE.
According to Khalil, the university’s difficulties partially stem from Egypt’s post-revolution anti-corruption wave that brought down former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, a man associated with the initial founding of the university and the allocation of the land for its use.
“We have fully collaborated with all of the investigations, and they all resulted in nothing. The university had no connection to any of the allegations [against Nazif]. He had no role in running the university, there were only allegations pertaining to the allocation of the land. But we don’t even own the land, or the building, we never claimed to. We were just promised the ability to rent it.”
However, Khalil did say that following the Nazif corruption scandal, the government has “taken over” equipment for facilities and labs that they purchased using the university’s “private funds,” in addition to taking over their financial assets.
The association of the university with the corruption scandal has even negatively effected the reputation of the university’s students, the student union president explained, citing an example of how he was “kicked out of taxi cab when he told the driver that he was an NU student.
Regardless of the difficulties, Khalil concluded by saying that NU will not give up and “will continue fighting for the new campus.”