In recent months, Universities UK (UUK) and the British government have been collaborating with Egyptian higher education (HE) institutions to form a series of academic partnerships between universities in Britain and Egypt.
UUK and the government have conveniently failed to mention, however, that Egypt’s Sisi regime is currently involved in repressing trade unionists, silencing political dissenters, and generally disregarding human rights both on and off campus.
This critique was voiced recently in an open letter signed by 233 academics and members of the University and College Union (UCU). As well as the reactionary nature of the Sisi regime, the letter referenced the 2016 torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge PhD student, who went missing and was later found dead during a research project in Cairo.
It is strongly believed that Regeni was killed by the Egyptian government due to his left-wing political views and his opposition to the regime. As the letter points out, Regeni is but one of many students who have been abducted, tortured, or killed in Egypt in recent years, with much of the suspicion falling on the government.
Despite the brutal repression and reactionary nature of the Sisi regime, UUK and the British government have welcomed the opportunity to rake in more profits by collaborating with Egyptian HE institutes.
On its website, UUK describes the agreements as being “for the mutual benefit of both countries and their higher educations sectors”. Academics have attacked this as merely being a “cynical branding exercise”, intended to boost profits without consideration for students’ safety.
Indeed, the Egyptian government has already agreed to allow British “satellite campuses” to be set up, allowing universities to expand their market by charging Egyptian students absurd amounts for a UK-branded education.
Academics have rightly connected this unholy union to the increasing marketisation of education in Britain. Higher education has already been subject to extensive commercialisation, with universities forced to make sacrifices in order to remain ‘competitive’. This deal represents yet another sacrifice – this time of students’ safety, in the name of profit.
Seeking to collaborate with the repressive, reactionary Sisi regime is no accident by the British ruling class. It is necessitated by the instability of capitalism. University bosses and the Tory party are more than willing to forgo any sense of decency, working with the most authoritarian governments, if it will provide even a short-term boost to their bank balance.
In reality, this deal will not mean any improvement in the quality of higher education in Britain. Rather, it will further undermine students’ and university workers’ security, whilst fuelling the marketisation of our education.
These measures are symptoms of the failing capitalist system. The response must be a united fight of students and workers, both on campus and beyond. We must oppose UUK and the Tories in order to protect our rights and fight for a socialist education system – free and safe for all.
by Ollie Brotherton, KCL Marxists