Flailing economy hurts Egyptian students and universities

Currency devaluation makes it harder for families to afford higher education, and for institutions to pay their staff

April 14, 2024
Source: iStock/ Maksym Kapliuk

Egypt’s continuing economic woes are causing problems across the country’s higher education sector – for students and academics alike, according to experts.

The North African state’s long history of economic problems – including an overvalued currency, growing public debt and failed industrial development – has been compounded by the Israel-Hamas war.

Egypt has been aided in the past month by a sizeable investment from the United Arab Emirates and a loan from the International Monetary Fund, but the devaluation of the Egyptian pound means that many aspects of higher education in the country will remain affected, according to Manar Sabry, senior assistant director for strategic analysis at SUNY Binghamton University.

“If the depreciation of the Egyptian pound persists, it will increasingly challenge families’ ability to afford sending their children abroad for education,” she said.

“There are limited financial resources available for people. But even when you have the resources, there are restrictions on paying for your own children…so it’s causing a lot of issues.”

Other currencies are difficult to obtain, with banks limiting the amount of dollars residents can buy.

As a result, Dr Sabry said, any students who want to study abroad have to find a “back door” to do so – usually involving an associate already in the host country and a non-bank exchange of money.

The situation has also made it more difficult for private institutions to pay staff – something typically done in dollars – so they will be forced to increase their tuition fees in Egyptian pounds.

“That’s going to become really expensive for some families because a lot of families are already struggling, saving all their money,” said Dr Sabry.

“So inside Egypt this will cause a serious issue for the Egyptian middle-upper class.”

Dr Sabry predicted that some private universities, which are no longer attracting as many international students as they once did, will have to shrink, merge or even close.

Maha Bali, professor of practice at the American University in Cairo’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, said the “economic turbulence” was impacting the costs of participating in research on a world stage.

“The cost of equipment, when converted to Egyptian pound, and the cost of travelling to conferences have both skyrocketed, making it more difficult for local faculty members here to continue conducting research and disseminating it,” she added.

Because salaries for academics and support staff were not keeping up with inflation, Professor Bali continued, historically middle class or upper-middle class people were finding themselves struggling.

Egypt has historically had a problem with its youth population being overqualified. Dr Sabry said the current economic situation would only make this worse, warning that the country would see PhD students taking entry-level positions and graduates working in construction.


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