CAIRO—Before being dismissed from his university for his political activities on campus, 24-year-old Khalid had been a student in the faculty of dentistry at Egypt’s Mansoura University for four years. After looking into universities in China, Russia, and India, he headed to the Near East University (Yakın Doğu Üniversitesi) in the Turkish city of Lefkoşa to pursue his specialization, paying a fee of about 12,000 euros a year.
“I was about two years from graduation, but that unjust decision destroyed my academic and professional future in my country,” Khalid said. He added that he chose the Turkish university despite its high costs because it allowed him to continue working toward his specialization without repeating the work he had already done in Egypt.
Khalid is not an exception. Over the past several years, Turkish universities have provided a refuge for dozens of Egyptian students who have been dismissed by their home universities because of their political activities and affiliations. During the 2014-2015 academic year, 413 students were dismissed, and 470 were dismissed the year before, according to a study by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an Egyptian organization that monitors the issue.
“All of the cases we’ve monitored were dismissals from the university for political reasons ranging from organizing a protest on campus to distributing anti-state political leaflets,” said Mohammed Nagy, a researcher in the academic freedom and student rights program at the association. The 2014 amendment of university law by the president of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, gave university presidents full authority to permanently dismiss students and has led to an increase in student dismissals, Nagy said.
There is no complete count of the number of Egyptian students who have gone to other countries to continue their education in the wake of June 2014 protests. But the number could be as many as 3,000, according to Khalid Reda, the executive director of StudyAway, a student services company in Istanbul. “The tense security situation caused hundreds of students to travel to Sudan, Malaysia, and Southeast Asia, especially India, due to the lower university fees there,” he said. Turkish universities have also attracted many Egyptian students, he added, because of the support they offer for Arab students. “A number of public universities [in Turkey] offer almost full scholarships for Egyptian, Libyan, Yemeni and Syrian students,” he added. “But language remains the main obstacle.”
Khalid was able to learn Turkish, which gave him the ability to communicate with his professors and interact with his fellow students. Other students have a much tougher time. Yousif Yassin, an engineering student at Zagazig University who was dismissed for taking part in pro-Muslim-Brotherhood protests a year-and-a-half ago, says: “I was at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara for a year, but I could not master the language to the required level. That, and the high living costs, made me decide to move to a university in Sudan.”
Yousria Ghazi, a master’s-degree student in political science at the Middle East Technical University, was more fortunate than Yassin. Ghazi moved to Turkey to study after finishing her undergraduate studies and receiving a scholarship that included housing and academic expenses. “There was no difficulty in studying, as it was conducted in English,” she said, “and I also had the psychological stability of not being under security pressures.”
Not every dismissed Egyptian student has found a new academic home. Alaa Ezzat, a former student in commerce at Fayoum University who was dismissed two years ago for participating in a protest said that high costs of study abroad and tightened travel procedures have kept him in Egypt.
Meanwhile, most of the Egyptian students who have gone to study in other countries aren’t likely to return home. “After graduation, I will have two options,” said Khalid: “Either to search for a job as a dentist in Turkey, or to move to work in a European country.”
Yassin, too, finds it very difficult to imagine returning to Egypt after completing his studies in Sudan. “The decision to leave Egypt was a forced one, and the return seems risky, especially considering that most of our colleagues who were unable to travel have been arrested,” he said.
If they did return, those dismissed students would face the difficulty of not receiving accreditation for their Turkish certificates in Egypt. In 2014, the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education, which refuses to accept such certificates, issued a statement warning Turkish universities not to admit students and professors who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and who had been dismissed by their universities under the amended law for allegedly “terrorist, sabotage, or subversive activities.”
“These dismissed students currently do not have the option to enroll in any of Egypt’s public or private universities,” said Nagy, of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. “We have to find a way to get them back to their country and give them a chance to pursue their studies here so that we do not lose them forever.”