In the fourth series of “Faculty at the Forefront,” held at The American University in Cairo (AUC), titled “Egypt’s Higher Education: Challenges and Keys to Improvement,”Ghada Barsoum, assistant professor at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at AUC said that getting quality education remains Egypt’s biggest challenge. In this series, Barsoum explored the quality of higher education in Egypt’s public and private universities and analyzed the number of youth (from 15- 29) who completed their education in Egypt.
Barsoum explained that there are three major issues in discussing tertiary education in Egypt: the input as in the curriculum, the teachers and access to technology as examples, the educational process and the outcome of education. In discussing access, she highlighted the main challenge for Egypt as the largest and one of the oldest countries in the Arab region, currently enrolling 2.3 million students in 2013/14. Higher education participation rate is also expected to go from 28 percent to 35 percent from 2010 to 2021. “The continuing increase in population led to massificiation of education. More opportunities for education are available but has that been reflected on the quality of education and the outcome?” said Barsoum.
Reflecting on the numbers Barsoum explained that 16.9 percent of the youth from 15- 29 years old do not have a primary educational degree, while 37 percent of the youth in the labor force from the same group of age have a primary degree or less. Only 23 percent of the same age group have a university degree.
“It is socially unfair to support higher education without supporting secondary school education in Egypt,” she said. Barsoum explained that the highest number of unemployment, 34 percent, is among those with university degree. “The less education a person gets, the less unemployment he faces, which is an indication of the quality of education produced in universities. We can’t assume that the educational institutions are completely innocent since they should have focused more on developing the skills of the students.”
In the latest statistics by the Strategic Department in the Ministry of Higher Education: 77.85 percent of the enrolled 2,3 million students attend public universities (including attending full time and attending in the new modes programs), Al- Azhar University and public technical colleges, while 22. 1 percent attend private universities and private higher institutes and private middle institutes.
In highlighting the skills needed in the labor market, Barsoum referred to the World Economic Forum “Future of Jobs report,” complex problem solving. In a tracer survey of graduates of both public and private institutions aged 28 to 40 to look at difference in education experience and labor market outcomes, she found that 54 percent of the students in private universities said that they have never been introduced to problem solving during their years of study, in comparison to 59 percent of students in public universities. Analyzing the educational process of higher education, lecturing was found as the main source of teaching in both private and public universities.
The results of the survey also indicated that 33 percent of the students in private universities never worked on a group project, in comparison to 61 percent in public universities. Also 52 percent of the interviewed in private universities said that teaching methods in universities never focused on analytical skills in comparison to 58 percent in public universities.
In her remarks, Barsoum said that the type of institution has no statistically significant impact on outcomes. “Educated youth in general have higher unemployment rates; but better job quality indicators (access to social insurance; paid leaves; work contracts and health insurance.”
Barsoum believes that there should be more access to higher education but there is a dire need to address problems at the pre-secondary stage. She explained that while there is a focus on inputs, process and outcomes, there should be more focus on inputs as in student-to-staff ratios, learning materials, facilities, and student services and a much needed focus on outcomes and the process.