Thursday, March 15, 2007

Higher Education and Political Reform

Florian Kohstall writes about the westernization of higher education in Egypt and Morocco in the context of political reform. Despite some people's stated intentions, however, it doesn't look like it has any bearing whatsoever on increasing political pluralism within the two countries. Even the universities themselves often maintain a centralized administration. There's also this:
"In addition to the selective approach to reforms, beneficiaries of reform and international cooperation also come from a select stratum of society. The current boom of private universities in Egypt, for example, creates opportunities for Egyptian philanthropists to invest in the business of education and come across as promoters of the “knowledge society” called for in UNDP's Arab Human Development Reports. And the results of such investments are only accessible to a small number of students who can afford private education. Elite politicians also benefit, as the countless committees, workshops, travel tours, and conferences organised by international organizations provide an important platform from which to present themselves as the true vanguard of reform."

To a degree, higher education systems always serve to reproduce elite status across generations, but this is especially striking in societies where its reach is so small. A gateway to even being admitted to these schools is knowledge of the language of instruction, usually English. I don't know how it works in Egypt, but in Morocco, where French is emphasized as a second language, acquiring the degree of English fluency necessary to study at al-Akhawayn University - Ifrane almost always requires private tutoring during the secondary school years, which only some families can afford.

These institutions do produce some anti-government activists - many of the Egyptian "Youth for Change" came out of American University - Cairo. However, part of the weakness of the 2004-05 protest movement was its inability to connect with people who didn't have an elite education, which remains the overwhelming majority of Egyptians.


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