The Egyptian president's senior education adviser believes that Egypt is in a good position for a world in which nations compete through “innovation and ideas” rather than commodities.
Tarek Shawki, chairman of the presidential advisory council for education and scientific research, said that his country was in the process of asking questions about what is the most appropriate education model to aid young Egyptians.
“Countries now and in the future will compete by innovation and ideas, not by minerals and natural resources,” he told Times Higher Education in an interview during a visit to the UK hosted by the British Council. “Countries competed on agricultural might, industrial [might] and then information technology, and now it’s all about knowledge, innovation and creativity.
“[However], we [inherit] the classical model of education from one generation to another. It started by trying to generate a lot of people for the industrial world, like a cookie-cutter model – everybody’s treated almost the same, and no big interest is given to individual differences.
“Now we jump into an era where knowledge is everywhere, accessible to young people with or without schooling. What do we want our kids to become, 15 to 16 years down the road? For what world are they competing?”
Professor Shawki, also dean of the School of Sciences and Engineering at the American University in Cairo, said that he was an advocate of lifelong learning, adding that, as “learning creatures”, it makes no sense that people go to university for three or four years and the last thing “anyone certifies you [with is] when you’re 22 or 23”.
“Universities seem to give you the stamp and you live with that, you hang it on the wall and keep saying: ‘Ah, I graduated from [the University of] Cambridge’," he said. "Good, but that was 50 years ago, you’re a different person now. Who stamps that?
“Should universities be a model for going there for three to four years to earn a degree or should it be a lifetime affiliation? Could I be accepted to Cambridge for life and be assessed on different things – update my degree? Why not?”
Besides calling on Egyptian universities to consider this model, he said that the country has the “ingredients” for helping people to access a “lifetime degree”. He cited the Egyptian Knowledge Bank – a nationwide project aimed at providing all Egyptian citizens with access to quality research and education materials – which launched at the beginning of 2016.
“It is an unprecedented attempt to spread the culture of knowledge and learning, and put a spotlight on the value of research,” he said. “It puts together content from the top publishers around the world. We convinced the president to subscribe to this content and make it accessible to any Egyptian in Egypt for free. Open access to all, which means it’s open, theoretically, for 90 million people. In the first 10 months there were over 69 million searches conducted, [the] number of downloads was 32 million. This is really encouraging.”
Ashraf Hatem, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Universities, had earlier told THE that the Green Paper the Egyptian government had been working on in collaboration with UK higher education partners – part of the memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in 2015 – was ready for consultation, focusing on three key areas: university autonomy, finances and students.