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Egyptian Court Supports Universities’ Independence

CAIRO—In a decision viewed as supporting the need for Egyptian universities to be free of government interference, the Alexandria administrative court has blocked an effort by the education ministry to force twice-a-year evaluations of university staff.

“The minister’s decision is a flagrant violation of the universities independence,” said Mohammed al-Khafaji, the judge who issued the decision.

Although the case only affects the University of Alexandria, it sets a precedent that will encourage similar lawsuits on behalf of professors at other public universities.

On July 2012, President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree increasing the pay of faculty members at public universities, a change regarded by many university supporters as a pressing demand for over a decade. The new increase was conditional on faculty members working a full day, four days a week. But earlier this year, the Supreme Council of Universities, headed by the education minister, ordered faculty members to submit biannual self-evaluations to the Ministry of Higher Education.

The faculty members disagreed with the minister’s decision and filed a lawsuit against him.

“The governmental and political system overview towards the Egyptian universities should be changed,” said Mukhtar Namir, a faculty member at the University of Alexandria. Namir praised the court decision as enhancing the principle of university independence. “Decisions should not be issued without studying them and consulting with university professors and scientists,” he said.  “The universities are independent institutions and don’t follow any administrative body.”

Professors believe that the minister’s decision was part of a larger effort aimed at interfering in the universities’ affairs.

“We do not object to being evaluated,” said Sahar Ayoub, a professor at Ain ​​Shams University. “But we refuse to be evaluated by the government.”

Under the ministry’s action, the evaluations were seven-page questionnaires, filled out by the professors, signed by the head of the department and later sent to the ministry for a final decision. The evaluations included questions about working hours, courses  taught, scientific research performed or supervised, volunteer activities and curriculum development.

“There must be another, better way to evaluate our work,” said Abdul Aziz Medhat, a teaching assistant at the University of Cairo. Medhat has already submitted his questionnaire. “Our salaries are very low; not exceeding 3,000 Egyptian pounds [$427] per month.” he said. “Linking getting such salaries with routine reports won’t be useful in the development of the educational process.”

Ayoub, at Ain Shams University, said that having the ministry evaluate professors could “easily be used by the government to punish the professors who oppose the government’s policies.” In addition, she said the government could use professors’ evaluations as an excuse to cut the university’s budget.

“The ministry respects the court decision and will implement it, and respects the principle of the independence of universities,” said Mustafa Mosaad, minister of higher education, to the media after the verdict. He explained that main purpose of the evaluations was to better understand the educational process and use the results to create development plans.

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