The Egyptian government continues to plan for the expansion and wider access to higher education through promising infrastructure planning of public and private universities as well as boosting investments in that area. The country’s Ministry of Higher Education public spending has exponentially increased by 160% from 2014 to 2021 and last year, over 3.34 million students were enrolled in higher education institutions. However, these significant surges and considerable efforts do not necessarily translate into more equitable access to higher education opportunities.
Despite meritocratic beliefs, Mona E Baradei reminds us of a persistent inequality of access to higher education. Egyptian higher education remains biased against the poorer segments of Egypt’s youth whereby wealthier households are able to make larger investments in their children’s education and therefore have greater opportunities in the job market. Considering the consequences of socioeconomic status on access to higher education, the Sawiris Foundation sheds light on the importance of providing scholarships in a way that addresses the aforementioned gap.
The Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD) has been providing opportunities to students over the last two decades that have shown a massive potential to positively impact Egyptian society. One of SFSD’s main objectives is to empower agents of change who demonstrate great leadership, exceptional academic performance, and virtuous and resilient characters. As such, the Sawiris Distinction scholarship was established in 2021 to reward high school graduates with the opportunity to complete their higher education in Egyptian leading universities. The applicants must have been previously enrolled in public schools and preference is given to Takaful and Karama program beneficiaries. Last year, over 1200 students applied and 40 of them received the scholarship. As of today, 36 students are currently enrolled and placed among top universities in Egypt public, national or private. Through their demonstrated grit and determination, Amal and Mostafa are one of the first beneficiaries of this scholarship program.
Amal Sobhy is an 18-year-old female student from Damietta and is currently enrolled in the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University. Amal was previously offered a place in the Access Micro scholarship program that she pursued and completed with dedication, enhancing her soft and English language skills. She fell in love with the English language and insisted on applying for the program in that language of instruction at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science. Amal applied to the Sawiris Distinction scholarship, with the hope of further expanding her horizons.
“I wanted to feel like I was more than this (my village), I wanted to see more and know more, I don’t like to be restricted to a set mindset. I love trying, I want to take risks and I will benefit from these attempts even if they fail. This is how I live; I need to take the full experience”.
Mostafa Mahrous grew up in a village in Sohag, lending a hand to small businesses around him, from the local carpenter to the baker on his street. Mostafa completed secondary education, served his community and learned about marketing by joining entrepreneurial projects and through online videos and tutorials. Growing up, the only English Mostafa was exposed to was from movies or by randomly translating words on his phone, which created a substantial obstacle for his scholarship applications given the requirement for an English language certification. Despite words of discouragement from his friends, Mostafa applied believing that although a lot of opportunities are hard to reach, nothing is impossible, and is currently enrolled in the Business Administration program at the British University in Egypt.
Both Amal and Mostafa began their classes in the Fall of 2021 and shared their motivation and excitement about university life. They are grateful for the relationships that they have made with their peers, teachers, and university staff, which they describe as helpful and supportive. However, these opportunities do not come without some challenges for both students. For Mostafa, it was the shift to the English language in all his classes, while for Amal it was the move to Cairo, a big and urban city that stands in great contrast to her small village back home. Amal experienced a culture shock, noticing the difference in the backgrounds and cultures of the people she is now dealing with.
Amal and Mostafa have inspiring plans that they claim the Sawiris Distinction Scholarship has brought them closer to. They are dedicated to helping their communities and both share the aspiration of transferring the knowledge they gain to others who may not have similar opportunities. They want to give back and benefit people in the same way that they are benefiting from their scholarships. They both want to make sure that their communities know about the scholarships and students in similar circumstances to them are encouraged to apply even if they don’t believe that they are eligible.
“There are so many people that don’t know these scholarships exist and some of them, could do so much with it, for themselves and for Egypt.” - Mostafa Mahrous (2021).
Amal and Mostafa’s satisfaction with the program and their growing aspirations are encouraging and inspiring to many. As both describe the opportunity as life-changing and empowering, it is necessary for SFSD to monitor the future of these students and to ensure that every investment leads to a positive impact. As evidence on scholarships in Egypt is limited and their effectiveness remains uncertain, SFSD is eager to evaluate the impact of its current and various scholarship programs, thus attempting to close the academic gap.
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Patricia is a young strategy and research assistant in SFSD. She studied her Bachelors in Management of International Social Sciences at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. Patricia has led and assisted several projects focused on child development as a volunteer and intern. She has also previously taken part in consultancy projects focusing on Social Behavioral Communication for Change.