Research endeavours and strategies in Egyptian universities

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Research endeavours and strategies in Egyptian universities

By Prof Elsayed Youssef Elkady
President
Benha University, Egypt

The higher education sector of Egypt includes 27 State-funded governmental universities (e.g. Cairo and Alexandria Universities), 20 private universities and 12 private academies (e.g. British University in Egypt), four not-for-profit national universities (e.g. Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport and Nile University), and eight military technical colleges, in addition to three universities and five university branches abroad.

Research centres of excellence in the Egyptian universities

Egyptian universities lead efforts to increase their capacities of research building via research centres of excellence. In the last three years, a few of these centres of scientific excellence have been funded by the science technology and development fund (STDF) (Table 1).

Research Centres of ExcellenceAffiliation(University)
Cancer BiobankCairo University
Cancer ResearchTanta University
Bladder CancerMansoura University
Regenerative Medicine ResearchAlexandria University
Umbilical Cord Stem Cell ResearchMansoura University
Biomedical Genomics CenterCairo University & Nile University
Biotechnology Lab ParkBenha University
Innovative Textiles TechnologyNational Research Center
Alexandria Clinical Research CenterAlexandria University
Bio-Fuel and Environment LabBenha University
Helwan Structural Biology ResearchHelwan University
Water DesalinationDesert Research Center
Egypt Solid Waste ManagementAin Shams University
Bio-Safety LabBenha University

Table 1. Condensed list of research centres of excellence funded by STDF

Not-for-profit national universities

Complementing the state universities are not-for-profit national universities which play a vital role in furthering academic research endeavours in Egypt. Among them are The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, The French University in Egypt (French: Université Française d’Égypte, UFE), Arab Open University (AOU), which is affiliated with the UK Open University (UKOU), Nile University (NU), Egyptian E-Learning University (EELU), the first Egyptian university to offer e-learning services, and University of Science and Technology at Zewail City.

All the diplomas offered by the French University in Egypt are in coordination Egypt are in coordination with prestigious French universities like Paris III: Sorbonne University, the Nantes University, Haute Alsace (Mulhouse-Colmar) University and the Corse University. Also, a convention with Paris VI University concerning the engineering school has been signed. The university uses French (mainly), English and Arabic languages in teaching, and their graduates are able to use these three languages in any work domain related to their specialisations. The International Center of Research, Development and Cooperation (CIDRE) was established in April 2004 to allow the UFE to become a national and international development pole. This centre’s priority is to be in close contact with the world of the companies, the local or international institutions concerned with research and with the various concerned organisations of the development.

The activities of the CIDRE are spread on three axes: 1) research: CIDRE has a principal role in undertaking and organising the research within the UFE. It must found a public image of the university as an establishment dedicated to research in terms of participation in international conferences and publications; 2) continued formation: to work out continuous training schemes in relation to the needs for the market, it must set up a system of formation open to all, always with the concern of meeting the specific needs for the companie; 3) outside relations: CIDRE establishes bonds of co-operation with international organisations like UNESCO, the European Community, and the Agency of the Francophonie… it develops projects of co-operation with the establishments concerned (ministries for industry and oil).

Nile University (NU) is a strategic partner of the recently established Egypt Nanotechnology Center and undergoes research in topics directly related to issues of development and national priorities in the sectors of food, health, traffic and environment, such as sensor networks for diagnosis and monitoring, mobile healthcare applications, computer-based imaging for cardiac and retinal disease, bioinformatics infrastructures and algorithms, and Egyptian buffalo genome analysis.

A success story of research strategy

Benha University’s roots can be traced to the Faculty of Agriculture in Egypt. Located in Qalyiobia, the university comprises 15 faculties (out of which five are nationally accredited) with 377 educational programmes.

The first component of the research strategy in Benha University (BU) is the Scientific Research Fund (SRF). Established in 2013, SRF helped prepare a new generation of distinguished young researchers and entrepreneurs, a generation capable of thinking critically and creatively, mastering basic sciences and becoming knowledgeable about the cutting-edge interdisciplinary fields of basic and applied sciences.

The main aims of SRF are: 1) improving the research building capacity of young researchers; 2) granting the young researchers below 40 with financial support on a competitive basis in different faculties; 3) forming research groups in different faculties and across faculties to submit research proposals locally and abroad, 4) establishing workshops (e.g. publishing in impacted journals and writing up research proposals for Newton- Mosharafa, TEMPUS, Erasmus+ projects); 5) obtaining external financing for research projects; and 6) enhancing the researchers’ skills in writing grant proposals.

To be eligible for the SRF grant the following are required: 1) publishing at least two scientific papers in impacted journals with impact factors of at least 1.0; 2) applying for a grant project locally or internationally; and 3) obtaining an innovation patent.

Exploring planet and cosmic forces by studying fundamental physics of our universe is another frontier of study at SRF. The original research developed in Benha University is transferable to the industry through the technology techniques and it will become the leading hub for high-tech innovation and development by attracting international corporations as well as incubating national start-ups. This success story for SRF in Benha University could be summarised in the data given in Table 2. These estimates indicate the success of BU in progressing the research capacity for its project scholars and for improving grant proposal writing skills.

The second component of the university’s research strategy is establishing research parks and centres of excellence (2012–2016): 1) Laser Unit – nanotechnology centre at the Faculty of Engineering at Shoubra, Cairo; 2) Central Lab – accredited centre of early detection of breast cancer and Specialized Ophthalmology Centre at the Faculty of Medicine; 3) Centre of Excellence in Scientific Research (CESR) at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; 4) Bio-Technology Lab Park in Faculty of Agriculture; 5) Accredited Lab of Molecular Biology (ISSO) at the Faculty of Medicine.

The third research strategy adopted by the university is improving the world ranking of Benha University by forming the World Universities Ranking Committee in September 2014. The following activities and decisions were taken by this committee: 1) issuing a package of decisions taken by Benha University Council to improve publications and citations; 2) motivating researchers by financial support in publishing their works in impacted journals indexed in Thomson Reuters or Scopus; and 3) motivating Benha University staff members in uploading their papers on the websites of Google Scholar and Research Gate. A financial award of EGP 928,128 was given to researchers after the strategic decisions taken (2015–2016) in terms of publications in impacted journals and citations.

Stage/ Year

Project Proposals
submitted

Projects accepted

Grant by SRF

External grant

First stage/2013

20

9

EGP 900,000EGP 7,676,800
Second
stage/2014

23

10

EGP 1,000,000EGP 5,099,880
Third stage/2015

36

16

EGP 1,600,000EGP 6,068,483
Fourth stage/2016

57

21

EGP 2,100,000EGP 5,211,448
Total

136

56

EGP 5,500,000EGP 24,056,611

Table 2. The number projects funded by SRF for young researchers (SRF grants vs external grants attained by the young researchers)

Conclusion

The global rise in student numbers and mobility as well as governmental pressure to increase quantity of international students together with the deficiency of highly qualified academic staff has made it crucially important for Egyptian higher education to rekindle the higher education excellence it enjoyed in the 1950s. Private and not-for-profit national universities in Egypt, including Benha University, are pioneering a movement towards excellence in research through funding the research projects of the young faculty and improving the academic ranking of the university.

Professor EL-Sayed Youssef EL-Kady has been the president of Benha University since September 2016. He is a professor of mechanical engineering (production and design) and he has held several administrative positions at Benha University, including dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Shoubra (2013–2016) and head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, Shoubra Faculty of Engineering (2012-2013). Professor El-Kady has published about 54 research papers and nine books. He has supervised several B.Sc. projects, five master’s and six PhD Theses. He has also implemented several training programmes in the fields of human resources development and engineering, has directed the Engineering Studies and Consultation Center of Faculty of Engineering at Shoubra, and has participated in many Egyptian training and engineering consultations.

Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Prof Dr Maher Hassab Elnabi Khalil, professor of animal genetics and breeding, and scientific research advisor of Benha University president for co-authoring this article.