CAIRO—Egypt is planning to increase international student enrollments at its national universities, with the aim of bringing in much-needed foreign currency to boost the national economy.
The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education announced the plan in early April, saying it will turn the country’s universities into a source of foreign currency revenue.
“The plan comes at the perfect time,” Safaa Mahmoud, professor at Ain Shams University’s faculty of computer and information sciences, told Al-Fanar Media.
Mahmoud said the move is an excellent idea, as it will provide the country with hard currency urgently needed in hard economic times.
According to the plan, the government will establish foreign student offices at all universities and higher education institutions. The offices will guide foreign students in preparing the required paperwork related to university enrollment and will also provide them with information about the academic programs available at each university.
The plan includes instructions to officials at Egyptian cultural offices abroad to take part in international education fairs, especially those in Gulf countries, to promote educational opportunities in Egypt.
The higher education ministry has also teamed up with the tourism ministry to participate in tourism exhibitions in other countries to promote Egypt as a center of learning.
Egypt’s currency exchange rate and a decline in foreign investment and tourism after the response to the 2011 uprising have drained the country’s foreign reserves.
Educational institutions have a considerable number of foreign students, especially from Asia and Africa, and they are now being seen as a robust source of foreign currency. (See the related article: Egyptian Universities See Boom in Foreign Students).
Thousands of Asian and African students are enrolled at local universities, especially those affiliated with Al-Azhar University, to study Islamic jurisprudence and the Arabic language. Most of them come to Egypt on scholarships fully funded by Al-Azhar and the government.
Mahmoud of Ain Shams University said that in order for local universities to attract more foreign students, they need to simplify university distance enrollment procedures to make it easy for students everywhere to register for academic programs.
The Higher Education Ministry released a new website for foreign students interested in joining Egyptian universities. The website is published in Arabic and English and helps students register for any educational program at local universities.
“This website is very important to enable interaction with students from other countries who want to complete their higher studies in Egypt,” she said.
According to data released by the Ministry of Higher Education, 41,000 foreign undergraduate students enrolled at Egyptian universities in the five years from 2012 to 2017. In the same period, there were 50,360 foreign students in master’s degree and Ph.D. programs.
Tarek Nour El Deen, a higher education expert, said that the government’s new plan should include improving standards of education at Egyptian universities as well as changing their image abroad.
“The plan’s success relies on the government’s ability to upgrade educational standards to bring them in line with international ones,” he said. Egyptian universities need to improve their world ranking to attract foreign students.
In a statement, the Higher Education Ministry said that the advantages of studying in Egypt include the variety of scientific specializations on offer, the affordability of university fees in comparison with other countries and access to distinguished staff members.
The plan has drawn mixed reactions among the country’s university students. Some have welcomed it, saying the plan will be good for the national economy, while others were concerned that it might reduce the number of university places available to local high school graduates.
“Egyptian universities will not be able to accommodate high numbers of foreign students. And I think that the government will then have to decrease the number of local students,” said Toqa Adel, a first-year student at Ain Shams University.
The ministry of higher education did not mention reducing the number of Egyptian students at national universities. However, some students say this might be a next step.
“It is a very good idea to increase the number of international students at Egyptian universities to push up foreign currency reserves, but it will be depressing for many high school students to know that their seats at faculties have gone to foreign students,” Ahmed Salama, another first-year university student, said.