By Nick Clark, Editor, World Education News & Reviews, and Sulaf Al-Shaikhly, WES Area Specialist for the Asia & Middle East region
In this article, we offer an introduction to the education system of Egypt, with insight on how best to evaluate common academic credentials from both the secondary and tertiary levels. As a follow-up to this profile, WES will be offering a free interactive webinar on November 8 presented by Sulaf Al-Shaikhly, Area Specialist for the Asia & Middle East region, with opportunities to submit Egypt-related questions at the end of the session.
In January and February of 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptian youths took to the streets to demand democratic reform in a movement that would force long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. Frustrated by a severely underfunded and highly overcrowded higher education system, and a labor market that was failing to find jobs for an estimated 40 percent of university graduates, Egyptian youth and university demanded change. However, educational reform has been slow in coming.
Some reforms have been made, but implementation has been patchy, hampered by continued political, social and economic unrest. This, among other things, has led many to seek educational opportunities overseas, while also discouraging students from other countries to attend Egyptian institutions of higher education, which traditionally have been popular for international students.
In 2010, a total of 2,646,000 students were enrolled across all tertiary levels. They attended one of 23 public universities, including Al-Azhar University, the oldest continuously running university in the world; 19 private universities; 18 public institutes of higher education and 81 private higher institutes.
Since the overthrow of Mubarak, a reported seven new universities have been created, largely as spin-offs of existing university branch campuses located outside major population centers in service of communities that did not previously have easy local access. This comes amid government efforts to increase the number of students enrolled in universities, which currently stands at just 25-28 percent of all high school graduates, and to decrease overcrowding at bigger universities.
According to Ashraf Hatem, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Universities – a statutory agency responsible for higher education – in a June interview with University World News, one of the government’s main education-related priorities is, “providing access to higher education. We’re in the phase of access rather than the phase of quality at this stage.”
The government would like to see the number of students enrolling in higher education rise from 2.5 million this year to 2.8 million next year. However, the general state of instability in the country has created an environment where meaningful change and reform has become hard to implement. Between March 2011 and June 2013, cabinet reshuffles resulted in the appointment (and dismissal) of seven different ministers of education. The current minister, Mahmoud Abo El-Nasr, was appointed in July as part of the cabinet of interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi after the military overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president.
Despite the political turmoil and unrest in the two and a half years since the revolution, some reforms have been made. There was a 33 percent increase in public funding for education between 2011 and 2012; however, a promised bump to 82.5 billion pounds (US$11.9 billion) in 2013-14 seems unlikely given the current political climate. As a percentage of GDP (3.8 percent, UIS 2010), public spending on education remains low compared to regional and world averages.
Still, the funding increases have led to a small increase in academics’ wages, although further promised increases seem unlikely to happen, meaning that academic wages will remain troublingly low. Low wages are a major reason for overcrowding and understaffing in the nation’s institutions of higher education. A 2012 report by a government agency says the country has suffered a major flight of scientists and researchers since the revolution.
From a student perspective, the removal of government security forces from university campuses has been widely celebrated. However, it has given rise to a security vacuum, which in turn has led to a dramatic increase in campus violence and some lengthy closures.
Students have managed to change bylaws, which have given them more autonomy in handling their unions, while direct appointments of presidents and deans by the head of state have been replaced by elections.
Beyond this goal of democratic governance, Egypt’s youth are also calling for a reform of the tertiary system such that it would better meet the needs of the labor market and produce employable graduates in an economic environment where opportunities have stalled and jobs have become increasingly hard to come by. For the 21.3 million Egyptians aged 15 to 29, the unemployment rate stood at a dizzying 77.5 percent in 2012, while the overall unemployment rate rose to 12.6 percent according to statistics from CAPMAS, the state statistics agency. Holders of intermediate, university and higher degrees have been the most affected by skyrocketing unemployment, according to CAPMAS.
This autumn, students returned to classes across the country for the first day of the new academic year. At Cairo University, the country’s largest, the new semester started under a reportedly relaxed atmosphere. “The new semester started without any trouble,” law student Tawfik Amer told Ahram Online. However, violence in Cairo and other cities since then has led the military government to warn that university campuses might be closed down if they continue to be rallying points for pro-Morsi students and groups.
International Academic Mobility
Recent evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, on study abroad trends suggest that more Egyptians than ever are currently looking abroad for study opportunities, while as a host of international students the country is rapidly losing its appeal. The absolute number of Egyptians studying abroad is relatively low, especially given the populous nature of the country; however, according to data from Unesco Institute for Statistics there were 25 percent more students abroad in 2010 (11,627) than in 2008. It seems likely that the political upheaval since then will have resulted in more Egyptians looking abroad for study (and subsequent work) opportunities.
To the United States
In 2012, there were 2,201 Egyptian students attending U.S. institutions of higher education, 20 more than in 2011 and a few hundred less than the record highs of 2002 and the mid-1980s. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, enrollments dropped to a three-decade low of 1,500 in 2006 and have since edged their way back up to near record highs over the last three years.
According to 2012 internal credential-evaluation data from World Education Services (WES), U.S. higher education institutions can expect an increase in the number of Egyptian students they enroll – and Arab students more generally – in the coming years. The WES data are based on year-on-year changes in the organization’s application volume for education-related credential evaluation requests, an indicator of future university applications. From Q1’2011 to Q1’2012, WES saw significant application increases for Bahrain (180%), Egypt (41%), Jordan (73%), and Syria (90%).
The U.S.-based Egyptian student body studies predominantly at the graduate level, with well over 50 percent studying for master’s or doctoral degrees and just over a quarter at the undergraduate level.
To and From the Rest of the World
The United States is the number one destination for internationally mobile Egyptian students and in 2010 was home to one in five of them. According to government data reported to the Unesco Institute for Statistics’ Global Education Digest, there were 11,627 Egyptian students abroad in 2010, up from 8,709 in 2008. The United Kingdom, Germany and France are the next three most popular destinations after the U.S., followed by Saudi Arabia.
On the reverse side of the equation, there have traditionally been significantly more international students in Egypt than Egyptian students abroad, with close to 50,000 foreign students at Egyptian universities in 2010. Cairo, with its low cost of living and rich cultural and historical heritage, has often been the first choice for study abroad in the Arab region. That picture has changed dramatically since the overthrow of the Mubarak government in 2011, and perhaps more significantly since the recent military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent political and civil unrest in the country. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, for example, that the American University in Cairo, a popular institution for study abroad students, has lost nearly all of its study-abroad students and has postponed related activities.
University World News reported in August of this year, after widespread violence in the capital Cairo and other major cities, that many countries in Asia had initiated plans to bring home nationals studying in Egypt. Malaysia – with the largest number of students in Egypt – recently ordered the evacuation of 3,300 students. This year, over 11,000 Malaysians were studying in Egypt but around 7,850 had returned for the semester break when the return order was issued by the government. The governments of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand – all with sizeable Egypt-based student populations – followed suit by issuing repatriation orders.
Enrollment among U.S. students in Egyptian study-abroad programs dropped 43 percent to 1,096 in 2012 from 1,923 in 2011, according to data from the Institute of International Education. Since the arrest and ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July, the U.S. State Department has ordered the departure of nonemergency American government personnel, and since then exchange programs sponsored by the United States have been suspended in Egypt.
The number of students studying abroad in the Middle East and North Africa region more broadly dropped 13 percent over the same period.
Education in Egypt is compulsory from Grade 1 to Grade 9. The system follows a 6+3+3 pattern, with six years of primary school, three years of secondary school and three years of senior secondary school. Students are awarded a Basic Education Certificate after successful completion of nine years of schooling, a General Secondary Education Certificate or Technical Secondary Education Diploma after 12 years of schooling, and for students who follow a five-year program of technical secondary education (two years postsecondary), a Technical Secondary Education Diploma.
The secondary system enrolled a total of 6,846,000 students in 2010, with 18 percent of those enrolled in technical and vocational schooling at the lower-secondary level and 51 percent in technical and vocational schooling at the upper secondary level.
The gross enrollment ratio (all enrolled secondary students – regardless of age – as a percentage of the secondary-age population) at the secondary level is 72 percent, while the net enrollment ratio (share of students of official secondary age) is 70 percent, which is suggestive of a system that does not see excessive grade repetition or delayed enrollment.
At the tertiary level, there were a total of 2,646,000 students enrolled across all levels in 2010, with 19 percent of those enrolled in a private institution and 51 percent female. The gross enrollment ratio at the tertiary level was 32 percent in 2010, above the regional average of 24 percent for Arab States and also above the world average of 29 percent.
General responsibility for education in Egypt is divided between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. The Ministry of Education oversees preschool, primary, preparatory and secondary education, while the Ministry of Higher Education oversees postsecondary education.
The Supreme Council of Universities sets overall policy and supervises the establishment of new institutions. Al-Azhar education is under the authority of the Ministry of Al-Azhar Affairs.
Primary school lasts six years for students aged six to 12. Primary education is the first stage of the compulsory nine-year basic education cycle.
The Ministry of Education sets the curriculum, and all schools must follow this curriculum. Subjects studied over the six years of primary education include: Arabic, English, mathematics, music, religious studies and science. In Grade 4, agriculture is introduced and in Grade 5 art, home economics, and social studies are also added.
At Al-Azhar schools, the curriculum is generally the same with a stronger emphasis on Islamic studies. The country also plays host to international schools that follow American, British or Canadian curricula.
Lower – or preparatory – secondary school lasts three years for students aged 12 to 15 and forms the final level of the compulsory basic education stage.
The curriculum at this stage includes: Arabic, agriculture, art, English, industrial education, mathematics, music, religious studies and social studies. Many schools also offer other European languages, generally French or Spanish.
As at the primary level, the curriculum for Al-Azhar schools is generally the same as secular schools, just with a stronger emphasis on Islamic studies.
Students are awarded the Basic Education Certificate or the Al-Azhar Basic Education Certificate upon successful completion of nine years of compulsory basic education.
Students with a Basic Education Certificate or Al-Azhar Basic Education Certificate are eligible for admission to general upper secondary school, technical secondary school or Al-Azhar secondary school.
Upper secondary school lasts three years for students aged 15 to 18. It is not compulsory.
There are three types of upper secondary schools:
- General Secondary Education Schools, which offer academic programs in preparation for higher education.
- Al-Azhar Secondary Education Schools, which offer academic programs with an emphasis on Islamic religious instruction.
- Technical Secondary Schools, which offer technical and vocational programs where students specialize in one of three streams lasting three to five years: Technical, Industrial or Agricultural.
The curriculum requires core specialization classes in addition to practical training.
In the General Education sector, there are two streams that students can choose from: Scientific or Literary. Both streams include English and Arabic as mandatory subjects, in addition to streamed subjects as follows:
Science: Mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.
Literary: Arts, history, geography and home economics.
Elective subjects include: environmental sciences, social studies, national studies, philosophy, psychology, music, European languages. These subjects are chosen based on the student’s intended tertiary-level specialization.
The Al-Azhar curriculum covers similar subject areas, but with heavy influence and focus on Islamic studies.
Students are awarded the General Secondary Education Certificate (Thanawiyya al-A’aamaI) after successfully completing secondary school and passing final exams. Graduates of the Al-Azhar system are awarded the Al-Azhar General Secondary Education Certificate.
In order to successfully graduate from the upper secondary level, students must pass the final exams for the General Secondary Education Certificate. In addition to final exams, students are also graded by ongoing assessments during the last two years of secondary school. The pass mark for most subjects is 50 percent.
Those students that score a final mark of 70 percent or above in the General Secondary Education Certificate can go on to apply for a place at a public institution of higher education.
Technical and Vocational Secondary Education
At technical secondary schools, students can pursue one of two qualifications: the Technical Secondary Education Diploma and the Advanced Technical Certificate. Admission is based on the Basic Education Certificate.
Fifty percent of the curriculum is devoted to compulsory general education subjects at this level, including Arabic language and English language, with 40 percent of class time spent studying specialization subjects and 10 percent electives.
Like the General Secondary Education Certificate, the Technical Secondary Education Diploma takes three years of study after the Basic Education Certificate, with students specializing in one of three streams: technical, industrial or agricultural. The Advanced Technical Diploma takes five years of study after the Basic Education Certificate and offers more specialized study than the Technical Secondary Certificate.
Successful completion of the Technical Secondary Education Diploma, with a score of 70 percent or more, grants access to further education at a technical institute. Students that score 75 percent or better on the Advanced Technical Diploma can apply to universities or higher institutes in a field related to their specialization.
Language of Instruction
Arabic is the official language of instruction at all levels of education. Some private schools and universities teach in English and French. University programs in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and engineering are often offered in English.
Types of Institutions
All public universities and higher institutes must be approved and recognized by the Ministry of Higher Education. The Supreme Council for Universities manages admissions policies and quotas, while also having the responsibility of approving private institutions and their programs of study.
Currently, there are 23 public universities, 18 public institutes of higher education, 18 private universities and 81 private institutes. Private universities were first approved in Egypt in 1996. They mainly offer undergraduate programs in professional specializations.
Higher institutes are more specialized than universities and typically offer programs geared towards a few professional or applied fields, and generally at the undergraduate level exclusively. Most public higher institutes are affiliated with a public university, which typically awards the final degrees. Private higher institutes have more autonomy, set their own admission requirements and award their own degrees.
Technical institutes award Technical Diplomas in vocational fields of study, typically in one or two specialized fields. There are three types of technical institute: commercial, technical, and industrial.
Secondary students graduating from the Al-Azhar religious stream can continue their studies at Al-Azhar University, which falls under the authority of the Ministry of Al-Azhar Affairs. Credentials from Al-Azhar University are usually considered equivalent to qualifications awarded by secular public universities in Egypt.
Admission to Higher Education
The following two charts provide an overview of the admissions requirements to the different award levels of the Egyptian higher education system, and the length of study typically required to complete those programs.
Technical Diploma (Diplom al-Fanni) and Higher Diploma of Technology
Awarded after two years of technical study, the Diplom al-Fanni is offered by higher institutes and technical institutes. Higher institutes used to also offer the Higher Diploma of Technology, a three-year degree that could be transferred to the third year of an undergraduate program.
The Technical Diploma is offered in three broad fields: commercial, industrial and technical. Entry is based on the Technical or General Secondary Education Diploma or the Advanced Technical Diploma.
Bachelor Degree (Bakkalorius, aka Licence)
Offered at universities and higher institutes, the bachelor’s degree requires four (120-150 credits), five (180-210) or six years (210-240) of full-time study. Five-year programs include dentistry, engineering, pharmacy, veterinary sciences. Medical programs require six years and may be awarded as a Doctor of Medicine. Other professional fields are five to six years and may also require a preparatory year.
Average course load per semester is 18 credit hours. The freshman year is typically a generalist year before students move towards a specialization. Programs offered by higher institutes are generally in specialized fields.
Graduate Diploma (Diplom ad-Dirasaat al-A’aliyya)
The field of study for the one-year program must be in a specialization related to previous study at the undergraduate level. There are some two-year programs, depending on the specialization.
Master Degree (Magistir)
The master’s degree typically requires two years of full-time study (sometimes three) or 30-42 credit hours, with a mix of coursework and research (thesis).
Doctoral Degree (Doktora)
The doctoral degree requires research-based study and the production and defense of a thesis in front of external examiners.
The National Authority for Quality Assurance and Accreditation of Education (NAQAAE) was established as a government body in 2007 to oversee quality assurance and accreditation at all levels of Egyptian education.
Accreditation policies for higher education have been finalized, but it is unclear from the NAQAAE’s website what – if any – progress has been made towards conducting quality audits. Accreditation policies for public and private institutions are the same. Accreditation lasts for 5 years after approval by the Authority.
Although Egypt does not have a national grading system, common grading systems include the following:
Documentation Requirements for Credential Evaluation
Secondary Education: WES requires that applicants for credential evaluation arrange for the General Secondary Education Certificate, issued in English, to be sent directly to WES by the Ministry of Education/Regional Governorate.
Higher Education: WES requires that clear, legible photocopies of all degree certificates or diplomas issued be sent in English by the institutions attended. In addition, academic transcripts issued by the institutions attended must be sent directly to WES for all postsecondary programs. For completed doctoral programs a letter confirming the awarding of the degree must be sent directly from the awarding institution.
This file of Sample Documents (pdf) shows a set of annotated credentials from the Egyptian education system, beginning with public high school documents and followed by undergraduate credentials from the technical and university sectors. For a more in-depth discussion of the documents seen here, WES is offering a free interactive webinar on November 8.