The issue of selecting university leaders is one of the main determinants of University autonomy and good governance. In Egypt, universities have been a space for political activism and student activity. Successive governments have tried to control the universities to serve their goals. Between the appointment of university leaders most of the time and the election that continued for a few years after the January 2011 revolution, the selection of university leaders has remained a subject of political debate, rather than an academic affair.
Public universities in Egypt suffer many problems related to the appointment of university leaders by the President of the Republic. These problems can be avoided if the executive authority stops its interference in university affairs, and the academic community is allowed to manage and determine the method of appointing university leaders.
The Egyptian House of Representatives is currently discussing potential amendments to the law regulating universities. The proposed amendments seem to focus on the financial aspect of faculty members. Nevertheless, other important issues related to the daily management affairs, such as leadership positions, remain absent from discussion. A number of universities do not have leaders, thus disrupting the educational and administrative process.
Higher education is regulated by Law No. 49 of 1972 and its executive regulations (809 of 1975), which have not undergone fundamental amendments since their issuance, although many academics, higher education experts and human rights organizations demanded amendments to the law.
When it comes to university leaders, most of the demands were related to the abolition of the appointment of university presidents and deans. Article 25 of the law regulating universities stipulates that the President of the Republic appoints university presidents, with an offer from the Minister of Higher Education, for a period of four years, subject to renewal. Meanwhile, deans of colleges and higher institutes are elected by secret ballot, where the names of the three most voted candidates are sent to the university president, who nominates one of them to the Minister of Higher Education. Then, the Minister issues a decision appointing the dean for a period of three years, subject to renewal.
In the wake of the January 2011 revolution, the first democratic system was adopted to select university presidents by election through an electoral college, and college deans by election via direct secret ballot.
This paper aims to clarify the problems related to the appointment of university leaders, and what can be achieved if decision-makers choose to amend this system, in order to develop the Egyptian higher education institutions in accordance with global quality criteria.
Background: The executive authority’s control over the appointment of university leaders
Law No. 52 of 2014 was issued to amend some provisions of the law regulating universities, as the system of selecting university presidents was changed from election to appointment. Under the law, university presidents are appointed by the President of the Republic after being nominated by the Minister of Higher Education. The selection is made from among three professors nominated by a specialized committee in light of their presentation of a university development project. The President of the Republic was also granted the power to dismiss the university president before the end of his tenure, at the request of the Supreme Council of Universities, if he breached the university duties or the requirements of his responsibilities.
Under the same law, the deans of colleges and institutes are also appointed by the President of the Republic, based on a proposal submitted by the Minister of Higher Education. The selection is made from among three professors nominated by a specialized committee in light of their presentation of a project to develop the college or the institute. The law left the procedural and organizational aspects of these committees to the Ministry of Higher Education.
These amendments contradict Article 21 of the constitution, which states that “the state guarantees the independence of universities, scientific and linguistic academies”. In order for universities to be independent, the state or any other party shall not interfere in the administrative affairs of the university or in the process of selecting its leaders.
The Ministry of Higher Education issued Resolution No. 2665 of 2015 to form a committee to nominate university presidents and deans of colleges and institutes, and regulate the work of universities and colleges as well as the procedures and conditions for candidacy. This resolution was replaced with the Minister of Higher Education’s Resolution No. 5241 of 2016, which stipulated that the candidates should be members of the teaching staff in public universities. The procedures and conditions for forming the committees were relatively improved in Resolution No. 5241 of 2016, but the Ministry of Higher Education issued Resolution No. 102 of 2019 in which it introduced an immaterial amendment to the deadlines for announcing the opening of candidacy for the presidency of universities and the deanship of colleges and institutes to be at least six months before the job becomes vacant, in order to prepare a timetable for the work of the committees. Finally, Ministerial Resolution No. 293 of 2021 rearranged the procedures for forming the committees in charge of the selection of university leaders, and add further selection conditions.
From among policy alternatives: Election after the candidates are approved by technical committees.. an optimal solution
- Appointment: Missed opportunities
The continuation of the current policy leads to several problems, as the executive authority controls the process of selecting university leaders in a centralized manner. It is the President of the Republic who takes appointment decisions, while the Ministry of Higher Education and the Supreme Council of Universities (headed by the Minister of Higher Education) undertake the formation of the committees in charge of selecting university leaders. This raises concerns about independence in planning and implementing the policies of the university administration in a neutral, objective and flexible manner linked to the needs of each educational unit. The method of selecting university leaders is an indicator of the extent of the independence of academic institutions, and thus their quality and adaptation to global changes.
Therefore, the ranking of Egyptian universities, especially the public ones, declines. This, consequently, affects the investment opportunities of the higher education sector as well as its attractiveness to international universities that have recently sought to expand in the region by establishing branches or research centers.
The Minister of Higher Education has the power to reject the results of selecting the candidates for leadership positions if he sees that the conditions are not fulfilled, without detailing these conditions. Moreover, there are no guarantees that the committees’ selection of university leaders, which they submit to the Minister of Higher Education, will be taken into account in appointing the highest rated candidates. Thus, the role of these committees is limited to sorting the candidates. The academic community is also denied access to the proposals of candidates for leadership positions, as they are presented to the committees only.
Looking at the number of Egyptian universities concerned with the previous decision, we find that the number of leadership positions (university presidents and deans of faculties and institutes) amounts to more than 500. This requires the President of the Republic to issue a decision for each position. So far, the number of published presidential decisions in this regard appears to be very limited. This leads to overloading the President of the Republic and obstructing the appointment process. The practical experience has proven the difficulty of finding cadres to participate in the committees for selecting university leaders on the one hand, and the failure of the candidates to meet the conditions set by these committees on the other hand.
In order to make up for the lack of candidates who meet the conditions of appointment, university presidents appoint acting deans, and the Minister of Higher Education appoints acting university presidents. No specific time limit is set for the termination of the service of these temporary posts, as the appointment decisions usually state that “the necessary procedures of appointment shall be carried out as soon as this is possible”. This lack of time limit leads to reluctance to take necessary decisions and measures, especially financial ones, thus affecting the stability of the work environment and causing inability to implement medium or long-term policies. As a result of instability, it becomes difficult to provide external resources through scholarships and other projects. The presence of acting university presidents and college deans also raises questions about the criteria by which they were selected.
The varying time limits in appointments have another dimension, as the professional and non-professional conditions set for appointment and the candidacy desire leave the nomination and sorting process without a clear beginning or end. Deans of the same university do not assume their posts at the same time and, of course, do not finish their terms at the same time. The same applies to university presidents and their two deputies who have the same administrative grade, as the appointment decision may be limited to the university president who could work with former vice presidents, or vice versa. This further weakens harmony within the single administrative level, and may lead to conflicting trends in management and daily business.
The varying timings of the appointment of university leaders are reflected in the work of the committees in charge of selecting university presidents and deans. According to the latest amendment, the work of these committees ends as soon as they submit their recommendations, clarifying the marks of each candidate according to the comparison criteria. This raises questions about the actual date for these committees to end their work, as the timings of starting and ending university leadership positions vary. In other words, does this require the formation of the committees every time, or are these committees existing all the time to pursue the different terms of all leading positions? This was manifested in the process of selecting the deans of the faculties of Banha University, which was marred by legal problems that amounted to the threat of invalidity. The university returned to square one by re-forming the five-member committees (16 faculties) for all faculties, which was caused by the ambiguity of working hours and opening the door for candidacy.
The ministerial decree forming the committees also did not mention whether the membership of the committees is renewable. This raises questions about ensuring the independence and integrity of the committees in the long term if they continue with the same line-up.
Some criteria of selecting university leaders are shrouded in ambiguity. These include the candidate’s ability to bring about institutional development, which appears to be of little use in light of the centralized education process in Egypt, which does not allow for innovation without approval from the higher levels. These ambiguous criteria also include the conditions of communication skills and psychological stability, which are difficult to assess and measure.
The current system of appointment causes some sensitivities, as the decree stipulates that the committees in charge of selecting leaders of the universities that are less than 20 years old should be composed of professors from other universities, often from the center. This widens the gap between provincial universities and central ones which are more developed and well established. It also makes it difficult to sort the candidates naturally, and does not guarantee that the outside experts would be aware of the needs of provincial universities. The number of young universities, according to this criterion, is 14 out of 27 public universities. The state’s approach to decentralization requires a review of this matter.
There is another gap represented in the fact that some non-governmental universities elect a board of trustees for the university president, which is a more sophisticated method compared to appointment. The continuation of the appointment system in public universities widens this gap. So, it is not in favor of these universities or their graduates, who constitute the largest proportion of the Egyptian labor market, and whose chances in the labor market are affected by the decline in the global ranking of the universities they graduated from.
- Absolute election: An inappropriate option
There is another policy that depends entirely on election. It is a very advanced option and one of the advantages of universities with high competitiveness, authenticity and international recognition. This method saves time and avoids the hassle of forming committees and their complicated procedures, setting conditions for candidacy, and sorting nominations. It makes the university leaders more expressive of the needs of each university unit. It also makes the students and administrative staff more connected to the internal climate of the university.
This option also provides double control over the work of university leaders, by both the executive authority and the university community. It also helps raise the competitiveness of Egyptian universities and attract investments in this sector, in which the election process represents an indication of the independence of management, something that matches the objectives of “internationalizing higher education” in Egypt.
This option may cause a disturbance in university work, as it differs from the electoral college system which has been previously applied in Egyptian universities.
- Election through an electoral college, provided that an independent committee approves the candidacy
The third option is based on election after the candidates are approved by the selection committees. The current stability in universities provides a good opportunity to review the policy of appointing university leaders. It is logical for university staff to choose their leaders.
It seems that resuming the electoral college system or the two-tiered election process, as was the case in 2012 and 2013, is an essential step. However, some points need to be amended, such as adding the positions of university vice-presidents to the selection process.
The nomination criteria need to be measurable. It is possible to focus on criteria such as the candidate’s academic experience, administrative skills, and their plan for developing the educational unit. The condition of having administrative experience should be eased in order to allow new and young faces to stand as candidates.
Ensuring the rotation and renewal of The membership of the selection committees should be rotated, through the participation of different groups in forming independent committees with the same number of candidates and with the same degree of independence. Then, the Ministry of Higher Education and other educational units present their candidates. Candidates should be enabled to appeal against the committees’ decisions before the State Council, thus enhancing the principle of equal opportunity.
- Conclusion and recommendations
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) hopes that the Egyptian parliament will soon adopt a higher education law. It sees that this paper covers an important aspect of any desired law on higher education, which is the management of universities, institutes, and colleges, and how to select their leaders. AFTE believes that the governance of universities in Egypt and the preservation of their independence is the only way to develop higher education and scientific research and protect academic freedom.
AFTE presents this paper to legislators, decision-makers, and members of the academic community, to build on its recommendations and deepen discussions on how to implement an effective system for selecting university leaders to ensure the independence of universities.
AFTE recommends that election through an electoral college be adopted as a mechanism for selecting university leaders, as was the case in the period from 2011 to 2013. The following are recommendations addressed to parliament:
- The nomination criteria should be objective and specific within the scope of the candidate’s academic experience, administrative skills, and their plan for developing the educational institution.
- In the case of electing university presidents, representatives of the three categories (students, faculty members, and employees) should be elected first to participate in the electoral college, which – in turn – will elect the university president. Similarly, when electing deans of colleges and institutes, representatives of the three groups (students, faculty members, and employees) should be elected first to participate in the electoral college, which – in turn – will elect the dean of the college or institute. In both cases, faculty members should make up 60% of the electoral college membership.
- The Supreme Council of Universities should form an academic committee to examine the papers of candidates for the position of university president and approve nominations. The committee members should be of diverse academic and administrative experiences, and from different geographical regions. The committee should be composed of nine faculty members and higher education experts, and its line-up should be entirely changed every two years.
- Each university board should form an academic committee to examine the papers of candidates for the positions of deans of colleges or higher institutes. The committee members should be of diverse academic and administrative experiences, and from different academic sectors. The committee should be composed of nine faculty members and higher education experts, and its line-up should be entirely changed every two years.
- Regulations should be set to regulate the work of the electoral college. These regulations should clarify how the committees supervising the election process are formed, their working times, the criteria for accepting candidacy applications, the electioneering procedures. They should also ensure the integrity of the election process, regulate the committees’ work, and ensure their constant cooperation with the university community.
- The law regulating universities and the amendments introduced to its articles 25, 29, 37 and 43 should be further amended to allow election through an electoral college. The law should also include new articles that allow the existence of regulations that comprehensively regulate the process of election and selection of university leaders.
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