Pharmacist Sara Mahmoud paid almost LE5,000 for her Clinical Pharmacy Diploma at Tanta University. She had hoped to then enroll in the Pharm-D Diploma — essentially a requirement to progress in her career — only to find the tuition fees jumping from LE11,000 the previous year to LE36,000.
“The university decided to raise the tuition fees from LE100 per credit hour to LE300. I’m not going to enrol in any more diplomas,” Mahmoud says. “And I’m encouraging my colleagues to look for alternatives.”
Mahmoud’s complaints are echoed by thousands of university graduates wishing to pursue their postgraduate degrees in various public universities and specializations across Egypt.
The situation is particularly dire in the medical field where doctoral degrees are essential for basic career progression. Opening a clinic for instance is impossible for doctors or dentists without a postgraduate degree.
There has been no official explanation of the hikes in tuition fees. There are no university bylaws regulating rates for public universities, and rates are left entirely for each university administration to determine.
A number of medical graduates say that based on their experiences, the tuition increases appear to depend predominantly on the ranking of the universities and the popularity of the courses.
The sudden and dramatic increases in cost are not accompanied by higher quality education, Mahmoud says. “The curriculum is no different from what I studied in my senior undergraduate year. The courses are mostly theoretical and the laboratories badly equipped — imagine a lab without an AC or even fans. We take our exams in tents built in the open air or in the corridors.”
Graduates of private universities will have to pay tuition five times higher than public universities graduates if they want to pursue their postgraduate studies at public universities.
Representatives of the Supreme Council for Postgraduate Studies and Research were not available to comment to Mada Masr. Former deputy dean for postgraduate studies at Tanta University medical school Ahmed al-Guindy spoke with Mada about the logic behind the recent increases.
“Universities simply want to get more income, and raising tuition for postgraduate studies especially through the credit hours system is an excellent resource,” he says, pointing to the fact that medical graduates are obliged to pursue their master’s degrees to be able to open clinics.
The Health Ministry is obliged to cover the tuition fees of postgraduate studies of its medical staff “within the limitations of the ministry’s own resources,” according to Law 137/2014 which organizes the affairs of medical workers. Guindy believes that this article of the law should be activated — it never has.
“The university should not increase its financial resources at the expense of students, who are already poorly paid in the public hospitals where they work,” he adds.
The Doctors Syndicate issued a statement in March appealing to the heads of universities to halt recent tuition increases, citing the low income of young doctors as a major obstacle to paying such expensive tuition. In another appeal to the Health Ministry, the syndicate contends that many doctors are unwilling to pursue degrees due to these recent increases, and that this will dramatically affect the quality of medical services across the country. Later, the syndicate had to send an official warning to the ministry to comply with the law.
The syndicate also claimed that 60 percent of recent medical school graduates cannot find positions for scientific and professional training due to limited incomes and financial resources.
Even those who have the financial means believe that postgraduate degrees in Egypt are not worth the money. Gastroenterologist Faisal Hemida has applied for the fellowship of the UK-based Royal College of Surgeons, a professional membership organization representing doctors in the UK and abroad.
This would set Hemida back around LE40,000 a year but he is willing to pay it for becauses it opens up opporuntities to work abroad.
“The RCS fellowship is the gate to migration to the US and Europe, as well as the Gulf countries,” he explains. “More young doctors are escaping the painful reality of deteriorating health services in Egypt.”
“Masters degrees in Egypt are purely paper-based and there is zero research,” Hemida says. “It is just a piece of paper so that you can open a medical clinic.”
In dentistry, the situation is similar. Board member of the Dentists Syndicate Mohamed Badawy says that tuition fees for masters programs have seen large increases, with some up to LE33,000.
“University administrations look at education as a source of profit,” Mohamed Badawy board member of the Dentists Syndicate says.
The number of medical school graduates is increasing every year, while the capacity of postgraduate studies programs is limited. The Doctors Syndicate said in an earlier statement that postgraduate studies in public universities can only enroll 4,000 doctors annually, compared to 10,000 fresh graduates every year.
Badawy explains that the increasing numbers of graduates is due to new private medical schools opening each year. “We appealed to the Supreme Council of Universities to stop approving more medical schools, but private universities want to make more money. As a result, universities raise the tuition fees to receive less applications.”
According to Badawy, Egypt is on the brink of breaking the international percentage of dentists per citizen. “We filed a lawsuit against the Supreme Council of Universities to halt these tuition increases or to oblige the Health Ministry to pay the tuition but to no avail.”
“The average income for young dentists is LE1,600,” he says. “How can they afford this expensive tuition?”
If medical graduates do not have the luxury of rejecting the idea of doing a masters, graduates of non-medical schools cannot fulfill their dreams of better academic studies either. Similar increases in faculties of Commerce and Arts were also announced last year. A number of graduates protested against the increases in tuition fees for masters degrees at Cairo University’s Faculty of Commerce in 2015, and there were also protests at Damanhour’s University Faculty of Education following 50 percent increases of tuition fees.
Journalist Sherbeny al-Attar had planned to apply for a master’s degree at Mansoura University’s Faculty of Arts for the upcoming semester, only to be surprised by the significant increases. The cost of a pre-master’s diploma rose from LE880 to LE2,000 per year, while a master’s degree jumped from LE1,000 to LE3,000 and PhDs rose to LE4,000 annually.
“In total, a student would pay up to LE22,000 to get a PhD degree and definitely students will seek the help of their families. I don’t know what family can pay this for their son or daughter. Students will have to prepare their thesis in less time to save money, which means less quality research,” he says. “Free education is now a myth in Egypt.”
This article was published in conjunction with Al-Fanar Media.