On the first full day of his trip to the Middle East on Sunday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attended the opening of Germany’s first international university in Cairo.
The German government is a major sponsor of Egypt's first full-fledged German university.
As the first full-scale German institute of higher education abroad, the German University of Cairo plans to educate as many as 1,000 students per year.
The university’s founder, 41-year-old Ashraf Mansour, got his inspiration for the school from his own studies in Germany from 1988-92. Mansour received a doctorate from the University of Ulm while studying there on a German government scholarship. Now, Mansour wants to share what he learned in Germany with his compatriots. "I made friends for life in Germany," he said, "I didn’t want to give these roots up; instead, I wanted them to grow in Egypt." After a failed attempt at opening a smaller school, Mansour returned to Germany for a year and began planning a more ambitious university project that opens its doors on Sunday.
A classroom at Cairo's German University
"We did it," said Mansour. "It’s really a miracle that we’ve succeeded. This building wasn’t even here on May 1. And now there’s a lecture hall equipped with high technology. I’m very proud of my team. There’s just so much love, I want to give my whole team a hug."
A new frontier in intercultural dialogue
The project is one of the most ambitious yet undertaken by German universities abroad, and though it was in the works long before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it still serves as one of the boldest examples of the deepened European-Islamic dialogue that has been promoted by the German government and the European Union as the threat of fundamentalist Islam has spread. One of the first conclusions drawn after the Sept. 11 attacks was that intellectual cooperation needed to be improved between the West and Islamic cultures.
Within five years, the college is hoping to attract 5,000 students. But during the first year, approximately 1,000 students will be accepted, far fewer than the 3,500 who applied.
"In seven years – Insha’Allah – we’ll be no. 1," Mansour says.
Support from Egyptian, German governments
The GUC is a private university, but it’s been given considerable funding from the Egyptian government. The universities of Stuttgart and Ulm and the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, which are serving as its academic partners, have also invested a half-million euros through the German Academic Exchange Service. Annual tuition for students at the elite school runs up to €5,000. That may not be cheap, but it’s half the price of tuition at the American University in Cairo and only a fifth of what it would cost an Egyptian to study abroad.
Courses at the German University are being taught in English, but students can obtain German or international degrees in information technology, pharmacology, biotechnology, media technology, management technology and material science. As these areas of study suggest, the school will have a practical, hands-on approach. Throughout the program, students are also given German language courses, and the most-promising students will be sent abroad for a study or internship year in Germany.
Speaking at the school’s opening on Sunday, German Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn described the GUC as the "first foreign university in the world that has oriented itself around German education standards and curriculums."
The goal's of GUC's academic sponsor are even higher than those of its founder. "We want this school to be better than in Germany," said Hans Wolff, the rector of the University of Ulm. "Right from the start, we want to do a better job of combining theory and practice than in Germany and, above all, better than it’s been done up till now in Egypt."
Students will be required to participate at internships at both German and Egyptian firms to give them the practical experience they need to hit the ground running after graduation.
"Our work in engineering disciplines is suffering right now because the industry keeps poaching our best colleagues and we’re no longer able to carry out our research projects with the best workers," said Peter Fritsch, rector of the University of Stuttgart. "That’s why we’ve promised ourselves we would use the German University of Cairo to train and recruit excellent, qualified engineers who can come back to Stuttgart and help us carry out scientific projects."
Both Stuttgart and Ulm plan to send professors to the Egyptian school, and they also participated in curriculum planning for the new university.
A boat crosses the Nile river in central Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1999, as early morning haze and pollution hang over the city. The unusually oppressive haze has Cairo residents, long used to dealing with the pollution that envelops the city year-round, turning up their noses and holding their breath. As many speculated on the cause, theories ranged from a nuclear leak to a byproduct of recent war games in the western desert, Egypt's Cabinet rushed to discuss the crisis. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)
The German University has already been welcomed by Cairo’s political and business community. With overstrained public universities, overflowing classrooms and an illiteracy rate of over 50 percent. The university hopes not only to attract students from the ailing Egyptian higher education system, but also to establish itself as one of the country’s elite universities within a few years.