Against the Odds: Higher Education and Employment in Egypt
by Meredith McCormac, World Learning
Egypt is a leader in the Middle East and North Africa region and continues to drive the regional economy even though the youth unemployment rate soars. Over 23 percent of Egypt's population in 2010 was between 18 and 29 years of age and 90 percent were either unemployed or underemployed. Complicating this already challenging environment, youth are living in cities that are undergoing profound political and social change. Through the USAID-funded Linking Education and Employment Program (LEEP) in Egypt, World Learning supports the simultaneous development of three career development centers in underserved and geographically diverse regions in Egypt. The program builds the capacity of these universities to equip students and graduates with the skills needed to gain employment and create sustainable links with local and national businesses to ease the transition from school to work.
Like Egypt, many countries around the world struggle to adapt to both unstable economic environments and a global marketplace that is increasingly reliant on innovation in science and technology. Many youth still lack the relevant knowledge and skills that help drive economies forward. The lack of quality education often intersects with poverty and leads millions of students to drop out before they acquire basic literacy or numeracy skills. Compounding these issues, as the global youth population exceeds 1 billion, many developing and fragile countries face challenges associated with rapid population growth. Youth in developing countries are three times as likely to be unemployed as adults and in fragile states, rising unemployment threatens to destabilize efforts towards creating vibrant and healthy democracies.
World Learning supports governments worldwide to tackle the employment gap through capacity development programs in both higher education and workforce development. The quality and relevance of higher education is improved when traditional higher education structures are strengthened and private sector goals are linked with universities to play a larger role in shaping education programming and outcomes. One of our Egypt LEEP partners, Port Said University, has worked in a critical political context since January 2013. After the trial of those accused of the Port Said Massacre, forty-one civilians died and hundreds were injured during protests. Regular business, education, and economic lives were halted due to demonstrations and civil disobedience. As transportation to and from Port Said stopped, the city also became isolated from the rest of Egypt.
To ensure student safety, the university decided to cease all school activities and postpone anything requiring students' attendance. In this environment, Port Said University and World Learning began developing a Career Development Center which was originally intended to target current students. Because of the school closings, however, the University began targeting a different group of beneficiaries--those who had already graduated from the University but remain unemployed. By adapting to unstable external economic realities, alumni develop skills that will help them take advantage of reemerging opportunities once Port Said stabilizes and become better positioned to seek valuable work in other areas of Egypt. As the external environment shifts, stronger university capacity for career services will also directly impact future students' ability to seek and gain professional employment even in transitioning or fragile contexts.
The recent Education for All Global Monitoring Report highlights the importance of improving the quality of education through developing programs focused on youth and work readiness skills. Emphasizing the crucial transition between education and employment will enable education programs at all levels to better prepare youth with the knowledge, skills, and capacities to become productive and engaged citizens. The end goals envisaged through Education for All cannot be attained without a flexible, contextual approach to meet the needs of individuals and institutions alike. This is the core theme of World Learning's approach-- empowering individuals and institutions to define and create change for themselves, resulting in long-lasting, transformative development. As Egypt continues to redefine itself, realizing the goals of an accessible, relevant, and high quality education is increasingly vital.
Meredith McCormac, Ph.D., is the Deputy Director of Education at World Learning.