Higher Education and Citizenship in Egypt – an anthropological critique of the crisis narrative (Daniele Cantini)

According to both local and international sources the educational sector in Egypt has been in deep crisis for decades, and this is usually linked to an even deeper crisis of citizenship. There are different versions of what the crisis is about; official studies tend to highlight an increasing quantitative burden on educational institutions, with consequent decline in the quality of education and erosion of educational infrastructures, or they focus on the inadequacy of the curricula and of teaching methodologies. Other more critical observers point to a break in the social contract between the state and the populace as the fundamental reason for the educational crisis, emphasizing the mismatch between educational promises and the realities of the labour market. Notwithstanding differences of standpoint, most people involved in the educational sector would agree that the system is experiencing a crisis, and that the situation demands key questions be addressed:  governance of the system and its institutions possible reforms, the role of international cooperation, and a spectrum of subjective choices and coping mechanisms. The prevailing sense of crisis imparts value (even if fading) to education, and informs a historical narrative that uses education to exemplify differences across decades. Moreover, the discourse of crisis seems to be used to justify a disengagement from the actual learning and research process while calling for appropriate policy reforms, for example, supporting the introduction of private for-profit universities, increasing some forms of international cooperation, as well as reforming public institutions; and it is a guiding force for actors, who unconsciously help co-creating the crisis.

In this project, I analyse the ways in which the discourse of the crisis of education in Egypt is posited by different authors, from different theoretical, political and moral viewpoints. The goal of this research is to discuss how significance is made through a resort to the crisis narrative – how different modes of organization and reforms are introduced, and how social actors adapt their evaluations to the changing context. The project investigates the ways in which the state, though the education sector, functions and evolves, between social and economic considerations, both local and internationally-oriented. Here the attention lies in the structuring and governance of education and research, in the reforms discussed and (rarely) implemented, a crucial aspect of the crisis itself, as well as in the international cooperation efforts, particularly (though not exclusively) with Europe.

Author: Dr. Daniele Cantini