Around the world, students graduating from university worry about finding good jobs. Graduates from Egypt have a little more cause for concern than many of their peers: investing their time and money in higher education has statistically lowered their chances of finding employment. According to the European Training Foundation, in 2016, unemployment for youth in Egypt aged 15-24 was 11.3 percent for secondary school graduates but 23.1 percent for those with tertiary degrees.
The latest Arab Barometer survey reflects that Egyptian youth are unhappy with the lack of benefits accrued by pursuing education. In the fifth wave of the survey, only 30 percent of Egyptians aged 18-29 reported being satisfied with their country’s education system. Among Egyptians 30 or over, 40 percent were satisfied. It’s no secret that public education in Egypt faces many challenges. From primary schools to universities, educational institutions are plagued by notoriously overcrowded classrooms, curricula based on rote memorization, outdated textbooks, and low teacher salaries that force instructors to rely on private tutoring to supplement their income.
Public education is widely considered to be lacking in Egypt, but other options come at a price that is too high for many. Private education, which can cost up to $26,000 per year, is simply not an option for the majority of young Egyptians. Families who cannot afford to enroll their children in private schools (or families seeking to give their privately educated children an extra edge) rely on outside tutoring; according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, over 40 percent of families’ education spending goes to private tutoring.
High youth dissatisfaction with education mirrors the scourge of unemployment facing young people across the Middle East and North Africa. Across all countries surveyed in the fifth wave of the Arab Barometer survey, 20 percent of youth aged 18-35 reported being unemployed. In 2017, the International Labour Organization found that unemployment among those aged 15-24 in Egypt was 29.6 percent.
Challenges facing the education system indicate that the youth unemployment crisis in Egypt is not due solely to a lack of job opportunities; there is a gap between what students learn in schools and the skills required for the workplace that prevents employers from filling existing openings. Global rankings reflect the failure of Egyptian education to prepare students for future jobs. In the World Economic Forum’s 2018-2019 Global Competitiveness Report, Egypt placed 133rd out of 141 countries in terms of the skill sets of graduates. The 2019 Global Talent Competitiveness Index ranked Egypt 120th out of 125 countries in terms of relevance of the educational system to the economy, and 101st in terms of ease of finding skilled employees. Despite high unemployment, thousands of skilled positions in Egypt are left unfilled.
Meanwhile, although satisfaction with the education system is lower among those who are unemployed (just 24 percent of Egyptian Arab Barometer respondents who said they were unemployed reported being satisfied with the system), positive feelings toward the system are also in short supply among those who are employed. Less than 37 percent of employed respondents were satisfied, perhaps indicating that upon starting their jobs, graduates found their education did not adequately prepare them.
What are the ramifications for the educational and economic woes of Egyptian youth? The lack of job prospects, partially stemming from unsatisfactory education, seems to be pushing some young Egyptians to consider leaving: according to the Arab Barometer, 49 percent of Egyptian youth aged 18-29 have considered migrating from their country, and 76 percent aged 18-29 cite economic reasons as their motivation. It seems that older generations of Egyptians would do well to heed the dissatisfaction of youth with their country’s education system, or risk losing Egypt’s greatest asset.
Erin Hayes graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Political Science and Arabic and currently lives in Cairo, Egypt.