Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Academic-Turned-Politician Aims to Fix Engine of State

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Academic-Turned-Politician Aims to Fix Engine of State

Article excerpt

Mohamed Morsi leaves academy behind to lead Egypt in the post-Spring age. David Matthews reports.

When he submitted his PhD thesis on the "high-temperature electrical conductivity and defect structure of donor-doped (alpha)-Al(2)O(3)" at the University of Southern California in 1982, it is doubtful that Mohamed Morsi thought he would one day become president of Egypt.

Yet less than three weeks ago, the one-time engineering student gave his inaugural address at Cairo University as the elected leader of the country, becoming perhaps the world's second most important academic- turned-politician after Barack Obama.

According to one contemporary of Dr Morsi's from California, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate's scholarly background could help him tackle the parlous state of some parts of Egyptian higher education.

Egypt's public universities are "overcrowded and severely under-resourced in terms of faculty, infrastructure, equipment and learning materials", according to a report, Higher Education in Egypt, published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2010.

The report says that in 2006 the country spent more of its gross domestic product on higher education than the UK (1.1 per cent against 0.9 per cent), but this nonetheless leaves it with less than $1,000 (Pounds 650) to spend on each student.

Dr Morsi, who was a member of staff at Zagazig University from 1985 to 2010, signalled during his election campaign that more money for the sector would be forthcoming, although he offered few hard figures.

According to the website of his Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which is part of the Brotherhood, he said in a May television interview that "there are exemplary university professors who deliver brilliant performance" and that "university staff incomes must be raised".

The president has also promised the delivery of a new "state-of-the-art independent university" in the southern city of Aswan.

Liberal thoughts

But Dr Morsi's room for manoeuvre is "very limited" because so much of Egypt's budget is spent on servicing the country's sizeable debts and on subsidies for bread and fuel, said Omar Ashour, director of Middle East studies at the University of Exeter.

Some commentators have argued that the Brotherhood is a neoliberal party that will look to privatise much of Egypt's state. It has for several years contemplated the privatisation of the nation's universities as a way of bringing in extra money, Dr Ashour said. …

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