A massive increase in both non-Egyptian Arab students and other foreign students in recent years has been a real boom for public universities in Egypt. These institutions benefit both from higher fees paid by those students, and from an enhanced academic standing thanks to the talent they attract from abroad. And the students themselves benefit from an affordable education in a diverse range of subjects.
“Tuition and accommodation here in Egypt cannot be compared with elsewhere,” said Mustafa Hurriyah, a third-year Syrian medical student who studies at Assiut University. Hurriyah previously lived in Saudi Arabia, but was unable to complete his undergraduate studies there. “The study costs are just too expensive [there] for non-citizens,” he said. Admission to public universities in the Gulf countries is reserved for citizens only, and fees at private universities are very high.
By contrast, Egypt’s public universities are open to non-citizens, though they do pay twice the tuition, and must do so in a hard currency (U.S. dollars or British pounds). Exceptions are made for students from Syria, Sudan and Libya because of the ongoing conflicts in those countries; these students can pay their fees in Egyptian pounds, which can make tuition more affordable. But even at double the fees, the cost of study at an Egyptian university remains much lower than in other Arab countries (see also a related article: Qatar’s Private Universities Are the Most Expensive in the Region).
In the past year alone, Egypt’s universities attracted 9,500 new foreign students, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Higher Education last month. Today, 47,000 foreign students are enrolled at Egypt’s public universities across all degree levels, an increase from less than 2,000 back in 2010.
“Today, Egypt is ranked third among Arab countries in attracting Arab students, after Jordan and Morocco,” said Hussam al-Mallah, head of the Ministry of Higher Education’s Scholarships and Foreign Students Affairs department. “But we still aim to encourage more Arab and foreign students to study in our universities.”
According to al-Mallah, Egypt’s universities are able to attract Arab students from outside the country—especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—along with East Asian countries such as Malaysia and some African countries, because the Egyptian government provides scholarships to support cultural exchanges with neighboring countries.
“The presence of Arab and foreign students in our universities is a great asset to us,” said al-Mallah. “It’s a double advantage. The revenue can help the universities to be self-funding, and the fact that we attract good students from other countries also boosts our academic reputation in the region and the wider world.”
Fees vary according to the subject of study and the university, and range from $5,000 to $9,000 a year, though the government intends to raise this to a up to$12,000 a year. The revenue raised by receiving non-Egyptian Arab students and other foreign students in Egypt is about $120 million, according to a press statement by Ashraf al-Shehhi, the Minister of Higher Education.
Ten percent of this revenue from foreign students goes to the Ministry of Finance; another 10 percent goes to the Ministry of Higher Education. Thirty-five percent is allocated to improving the quality of educational services at the universities, such as buildings and student activities, and 45 percent is used to improve the educational process, the research and programs of international students, and for bonuses to professors, according to El-Sayed al-Qadi, president of Benha University north of Cairo.
When asked what encourages foreign students to enroll at Egyptian universities, al-Qadi said, “Our universities enjoy a good reputation because of the diversity of choice in their faculties. We also allow international students to apply online and try to help them through the process by offering a special office in each faculty specifically for them.” He pointed out that Benha University is also seeking to develop an e-learning system that will allow students to study online and obtain an accredited certificate.
“In the university, we are working on linking the topics of international students’ research with their countries’ needs,” al-Qadi said. “We also support research partnerships with these countries to encourage their students to study in our universities.”
Cairo University ranked first in attracting foreign students, followed by Ain Shams and Benha Universities, the latter of which has 6,500 international students, according to al-Qadi.
Ahmed Abdu Geaies, the president of Assiut University, believes there is still more to be done to attract foreign students to study in Egypt. “We need to promote the outreach of our scientific and arts faculties better in international forums, and not just in regional ones,” said Geaies. “Our universities are prestigious and our professors are qualified, but we need greater resources to develop the infrastructure to accommodate larger numbers of students.”
Fasihah bint Mohammed Jamil, a fourth-year medical student at Assiut University, confirmed the appeal of studying in Egypt. “Expenses here are much lower than in Malaysia,” she said, adding that friends who had studied in Egypt encouraged her to do the same, particularly given that the university is recognized in her home country.
Jamil pays annual tuition ranging from $6,000 to $9,000 and can live on less than $40 per month due to the affordability of university housing. Even though the value of the U.S. dollar has risen against the Egyptian pound, leading to significant price increases recently, Jamil finds her study and living costs are acceptable.
“Arabic language is my main problem,” she said. “I still have difficulty in dealing with patients because of the language. And there is also the issue that some shopkeepers and taxi drivers ask me to pay double just because I am a foreigner.”
Despite the popularity of studying at Egyptian universities, the country does not seem able to keep its foreign students in Egypt once they graduate. Jamil is planning to return to her own country; the same is true of Hurriyah. “I am not sure whether I can go back to Syria after graduation because of the ongoing conflict there,” he said. “But I will try to find a job in the Gulf, as wages in Egypt are very low compared to other Arab countries.”
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