Special Year End 2014 Feature:
The year 2014 was a difficult one in Egyptian universities, seeing 20 students killed inside Cairo, Al-Azhar, Ain Shams and Alexandria Universities in clashes between students and security forces. Hundreds have also been arrested and many more suspended from their courses.
Students also experienced other setbacks. In contrast to the freedoms gained after the 25 January Revolution, the government passed a series of decrees and universities issued new regulations, all of which resulted in tight control over student activities.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree in June amending university regulations, that rescinded the independent election of university presidents. Under the new system, any new university president would be appointed by Al-Sisi, after receiving three names as recommendations by a special committee from the Minister of Higher Education.
The Ministry signed a contract with private security company Falcon to provide security at university campuses, which was met with angry reactions from students. It sparked clashes between Falcon staff and students.
Daily News Egypt interviewed students in several campuses nationwide, and found that many are not convinced by the words of the government.
The year’s end is a time of preparing for midyear exams in Egypt’s universities, yet campuses were empty as a large segment of students preferred to spend the pre-exam weeks in home study. Some students responded to our questions about their expectations and demands from Al-Sisi and his government in 2015.
Mohamed Raafat, who studies history at Ain Shams University, said he demands from authorities: “I want this repression we have seen to lighten up a little bit, we’ve been entering the campus like we’re entering a military camp.”
Raafat also commented on the situation outside campus saying: “As for the country, things are OK for now, what happens in the university happens outside it, but outside there is at least something serious happening…it’s like wherever you go there is a bomb.”
Other students believe the university’s situation is not so worrying. Mahmoud Fathy, an Ain Shams University law student, said: “We didn’t have much trouble here in our university, we were actually progressing with study to some extent.”
Mohamed, a media student at Ain Shams University was decisively focused on politics in his words: “I want to oppose him [Al-Sisi] as I opposed his predecessors. I want authorities to respect citizens and to equally give all civil rights to all who live in this country.”
However, Mohamed was pessimistic about a possible change, saying: “I expect him to do nothing but to continue the path to authoritarian fascism. Authority will continue helping the rich against the poor.”
Assiut University media student, Mahmoud Rashad, feels his detained colleagues deserve attention, as he demands from Al-Sisi to “at least free detained student so they can take their exams and have a fair chance of studying”.
Ain Shams University media student Mahmoud is pessimistic about the future. He said: “I expect him [Al-Sisi] to continue punishing youth and students and to impose more repressive procedures that will restrict freedoms inside and outside universities.”
AUC engineering student Hazem, who prefers to stay away from politics, said: “We are not into politics at all, but everything regarding this is already beyond repair, they have to find a new way to get things going.”
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
The talk about future continued, but on a different course as many of the students we talked to showed concerns about their future, with all resolute to find work after graduation.
The Central Auditing Organization (CAO) sent a report of 38 items to the presidency about malfunctions in Egyptian education, according to a report published by state-run newspaper Al-Ahram Monday.
In the report, the independent organisation said the reason for the increasing unemployment and decrease in graduate qualifications, is the absence of a clear long-term strategy for education. The report linked this with the labour market, with Egyptians rushing to join higher education and abandoning technical education leading to an increasing number of university graduates and lack of suitable jobs for them.
Some students saw this failure leads to nowhere but a life outside the country for many. Amr, an Al-Azhar University commerce student said: “I’m upset about everything…it is about despair, despair of everything…I have no hope for anything or from anyone…I just want to leave the country after I finish college.”
Revamping the quality of education
Students are well aware of a serious problem in the education they get, Sara Mohamed said: “I’m not going to say I want security in the country because this is fundamental, but I want improvement to education because we’re lost.”
Ziad, an AUC engineering student, acknowledges the difficulty of getting quick results when dealing with such complicated issues: “Education has to be improved; you have to start from the base.”
He added: “If he [Al-Sisi] has to do anything, it will take from five to ten years, but we have to start with education and industry.”
The CAO report notes several reasons behind the education system’s deterioration, including the indecisiveness of student admission policies. There is also no clear view among policy setters, who remain undecided between including students depending on the educational system’s capacity and responding to political and popular pressure without considering future labour market needs.
The depth of the problem concerns Ahmed, an Ain Shams University law student, who believes a conclusive solution is needed: “I want this education system to be completely revamped. If anything else wouldn’t change at least I want a change in Education.”
Activities under “control”
An interesting concern raised by student we met regards student activities. Abdelrahman Sabry expressed the importance of student unions, saying: “We don’t have a student union this year, they used to help us in the past year, but due to the ‘security situation’ we don’t have it any longer.”
Minister of Higher Education El-Sayed Abdel Khalek announced that student union elections will be held in the second semester.
Eslam Ebrahim, a 6th of October University engineering student, condemned restrictions on student activities and wanted Egypt’s president to look at the issue.
He said: “As a student, the simplest thing I want is the freedom of student activities that have been restricted due to state security’s supervision at every move.”
A recent example of such restrictions is cancelling the second camp of the Faculty of Economy and Political Science (FEPS), as it deals with “too much politics”, according to Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
AFTE says that such a move is considered a violation of the fundamental rights provided by university regulation law. AFTE also said that the cancellation came as a part of series of decisions taken by several universities to hamper student activities.
Ahmed, an Ain Shams University law student says: “I’m not that much into politics and I don’t like my studies, but I recently joined a theatre activity and we were playing this comedy about a psychiatrist who fools people to believe things not real and everybody says amen.”