Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Letters from Egypt: University Meltdown

Source: Princeton

You know how sometimes we watch TV and it’s like the media has just asked for the dumbest person in the crowd to volunteer their thoughts on a situation? I have to wonder if it’s just because only the less-informed are willing to speak. In either case, if you’re attempting to stage a movement, you might want to keep some from speaking to the media.

All of the foreign universities in Cairo are protesting over one thing or the next, but things seem to really be gearing up at the American University in Cairo (AUC) over tuition hikes. The administration, despite earlier promises of a cap on tuition, has continued to implement a 7-8% increase annually. I am not going to discuss AUC student grievances over tuition, but one year ago I posted a blog, “The American University in Cairo Brief,” where I detailed the university president Lisa Anderson’s appointment of her husband to chair a department as well as students protesting.

What is unfortunate is that while the students may have a valid case regarding their recent tuition hike, some of the students quoted in local news sources are ill-informed and represent a much bigger problem: lack of education (including comprehension, research, supportive facts, etc). I don’t think this can be blamed on the faculty of the university as I even documented in the previous blog:

“Back track a couple of months ago during final exam time when I traveled to AUC to get my computer repaired. I was sitting in my friend’s office doing work – a professor (although I cannot say which department for obvious reasons) – while students piled into the office to negotiate their grades. Their arguments were null and void, mostly idiotic, and all revolved around failure to attend lectures and complete CORE course requirements. And this is the future of Egypt. Mabruk.”

Local news source, Al-Ahram, quoted one petroleum engineering student Hossam Mohsen as saying: "We can afford the tuition increase, but we are not receiving anything in return. We have a shortage in faculty members. We have two or three labs only. They send us to audit in the labs of the British University in Cairo. Professors in petroleum engineering don’t know how to speak English. By 2015, AUC tuition will be LE 250,000, which is too much. If I travel to study abroad I will pay less. McGill, for their citizens, offers tuition at $12,000; AUC now is offering tuition at $25,000."

I've met many of those professors in this exact department - they all speak fluent English. Seeing as how a huge multi-national firm supports the petroleum engineering department at AUC with a grant totaling around $15 million spread over five years – this is shocking. Mohsen added, “Where did the money go? We didn’t see any labs.” Labs offered include reservoir simulation, production software and log interpretation and another five labs including drilling with a drilling simulator, according to a recent graduate of AUC’s petroleum engineering department. That money also goes toward the software licensing provided by the multi-national firm which Mohsen should do some research to find out how much that technology costs before giving interviews.

But Mohsen’s words bring up a different problem: Egyptians immediately alleging corruption charges (he blamed the department chair for his so-called lack of labs, questioning financial allocation). Another recent graduate of the program told me, “I believe that what Hossam claimed is not true and was only said out of anger.” While the other recent grad said, “I am sure Mohsen was talking at a moment of frustration and he exaggerated.” Yet its people like Mohsen that are quoted in the media and quite frankly downplays the movement with his ill-informed rhetoric even if said in haste.

Does anyone else find the irony?

One AUC graduate from the department told me, “Again no department is perfect, but what I care for is compared to other private institutions teaching petroleum engineering, AUC students are capable of proving themselves in the market.”

Basic lesson here: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK and stop the witch hunt. You get nowhere without proof. Maybe AUC and other international universities in Egypt should focus on research and reading comprehension. Then again, that would require many of these students that do neither to actually show up for class.

Disclaimer: There are some students at these universities that do value an education and attend classes regularly; however, that is not the case for the many.

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